Erenlai - Displaying items by tag: diplomacy
Wednesday, 16 April 2014 00:00

The Promise to Taiwan

The Foreign Affairs Committee of the United States Congress held a hearing on March 18 on the subject of US-Taiwan relations on the 35th anniversary of the Taiwan Relations Act, a hearing they chose to title “The Promise of the Taiwan Relations Act”. It may have just been semantics, but the use of the word “promise” in the course of the discussion seemed to reflect less of a sense of the opportunities created because of the legislation than a literal promise made between the United States and the Republic of China. Wading through the purposeful obscurity that so characterizes the relationship between America and Taiwan, it is hard to arrive at an answer to a very important question: what exactly is the promise that the United States of America has made to Taiwan?

When I was at the protests at the Legislative Yuan in Taipei the week they began, I witnessed a man speaking about the resilience of the Taiwanese throughout their history in the face of constant takeover by imperial and colonial powers. He likened the current struggle against the Cross-Strait Trade Service Agreement to this history of resistance, but he made a comment that piqued my interest. He told the crowd that concerning the growing threat of a Chinese takeover that China was too big, and that the Americans could not save Taiwan now, it was Taiwan that would have to put up the resistance itself.

Was this true, I wondered? Had the much-talked-about growth of China reach a critical mass, to the point where the Americans would decide that, in the face of an attempted takeover, Taiwan was simply not worth fighting Beijing over? The relationship between America and Taiwan is not simply a curiosity, it is a relationship that has proven to be absolutely critical to the develop of Taiwan into what it is today. It is a relationship that both sides of the debate over the Trade Service Agreement have acknowledge to be vital to the success of their vision of the future in Taiwan. Early in the Sunflower Movement, student protests sent a letter to the White House urging President Obama to support their occupation, and on the same day that President Ma of Taiwan held a video conference with a major American think tank on the US-Taiwan relationship, the leaders of the student protest held a conference with students at the George Washington University vindicating their point of view (the English version of which can be viewed here).

The relationship between the United States of America and the Republic of China is a unique one. One has simply to spend a few months in Taipei to see how much of an influence American fashion, language, and entertainment has on the culture and self-identification of Taiwanese people of all ages. On the American side, there is constant discussion of a sense of “shared values” with Taiwan, a nation that has moved from being merely a strategic partner in the containment of communism to a nation that shares the values of multi-party democracy and free market capitalism with the United States.

However, the relationship is also at times an ambiguous and uncertain one, especially since the de-recognition of the sovereign status of Taiwan in favor of the People’s Republic of China in 1979 by the Carter administration. Since that time, all decisions made by the United States with regard to Taiwan have always been made with Beijing in mind, something that causes quite a bit of anxiety amongst the Taiwanese. Though the United States did sail an aircraft carrier group through the Taiwan Strait in 1992 in response to the launching of missiles off the coast of China in the direction of the island, conditions twenty-two years ago are much different than they are today, and China occupies a much more potent place in the international system.

The Americans tend to tread a very thin line when it comes to the issue of Taiwan, a position that may not always be viable even in the near future. They continue to sell billions of dollars of weaponry to the Republic of China, but the decision to scrap upgrades to Taiwan’s aging F-16 fighters and its subsequent reinstatement amidst China’s 12.2 percent defense budget increase shows how tenuous the relationship can be in times of contention. The United States claims that its relationship with Beijing is fundamentally based on the assumption that there will be no forced solution to the Taiwan question, but allows Taiwan to be further diplomatically isolated by China’s growing diplomatic influence. The fact that Taiwan has become so dependent on Chinese trade that it needs to pass these very controversial cross-strait trade agreements is due to the fact that Taiwan is not allowed to join major trade organizations like the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which the Americans formally support but have not advocated.

All of these tepid signs of support as Taiwan becomes more and more dependent upon China economically are worrisome to advocates of Taiwanese self-determination on both sides of the Pacific. The promise that the United States made to Taiwan in the Taiwan Relations Act seems to undergo constant reinterpretation through the lens of America’s support of China’s “One China Policy”. If indeed the Americans are such staunch supporters of democracy and human rights in East Asia, perhaps it is time to make more concrete assurances to Taiwan, and for Taiwan in turn to assure the United States that it will be a responsible partner in the region.

While I commend the comments I heard at the Sunflower movement protests about the indomitable spirit of the Taiwanese, spirit is not an effective missile deterrent, nor does it stop Chinese acquisition of Taiwanese businesses. Ideally, Taiwan would be able to share an equal burden (if not the full load) of the defense of its self-determination, but realistically Taiwan will never be able to defend itself against China. It is inevitable that Taiwan’s defense will always have to be subsidized by its friends who are stronger diplomatically, economically, and militarily. It is important for both America and Taiwan to remember, however, that theirs is not a relationship built simply on strategic necessity; both sides share a fundamentally compatible world view, and despite their cultural differences, they are allies in containing the growing power of China in the Asia Pacific region.

Tuesday, 25 March 2014 00:00

The Sunflower Movement

 Image Courtesy of AOL News   

Taiwan’s peaceful democracy has been wracked by  protest over the last few days in response to the passage of the Service Trade Agreement with China, a follow-up agreement to the Economic Cooperation Framework agreement (ECFA) passed in 2010. The police violence surrounding the events has left many Taiwanese citizens scratching their heads, wondering how this could have happened in a country known for its friendly and peaceful society. Many wonder what has happened to the democracy in Taiwan, and what this means for its future.

The protests began on Thursday, March 18 when a group of students entered the Legislative Yuan in Taipei around 8pm and occupied the chamber. The occupation began as a response to the announcement by the administration of president Ma Ying-jeou the previous day that the agreed upon line-by-line review of the Service Trade Agreement had reached its expiration and the agreement would pass through the legislature without review. By the end of the day, over 300 people had entered the building and occupied the chamber.

The politics of Taiwan are divided between the Kuomintang party and the Democratic Progressive Party, respectively known as the blue and green parties. The ruling Kuomintang is the more conservative of the two, often shying away from any talk of Taiwanese independence and seen as more conciliatory to the People’s Republic of China. It is under the leadership of the Kuomintang that the first government-to-government meetings between Taiwanese ministers and their counterparts in the Chinese government occurred since the end of the Chinese civil war. Their leadership has also seen the expansion of Chinese trade and tourism in Taiwan, and a dampening of talks of a Taiwanese nation.

The Service Trade agreement opens up 64 sectors of the Taiwanese economy to direct Chinese investment, a move which is seen by many of these protestors as being one step too close to integration of the two economies. In my previous article, I wrote that the much feared takeover of the Taiwanese economy by China has yet to happen, and that still seems to hold true. However, the ways in which the KMT party pushed the agreement through the legislature, by executive order rather than open debate, appears to many Taiwanese citizens to be a quite tyrannical move.

One can only imagine what the Ma administration is trying to accomplish by insisting that there be no compromise and that the agreement will pass through the legislature as previously planned. The pressures on the Ma administration by the Taiwanese population may not be as strong as their suspected desire to impress Beijing enough to have a face-to-face meeting between Ma and Chinese president Xi Jinping.

If indeed Ma wants to go down in the history books as the hero, he is certainly pursuing an odd course on his way to fame. Ma’s domestic approval ratings have already hovered at around 10% for most of the last year before the protests even began. Yet, despite his abysmally low popularity, Ma and Premier Jiang Yi-huah thought it a good idea to send in the riot police on the night of Sunday, March 23 to break up the protests. There were reports of over 100 injuries to unarmed students, reports, and citizens following the incidence of violence.

I have heard several critiques of the protestors, that young students cannot possibly understand the complexity of these issues, and that most of the demonstrators there have little knowledge of the real stakes involved. Many people I have spoken to believe these young protestors are just there to be with their friends. While it’s true that the sunflower painting, arm band making, and constant Instagraming of selfies may seem juvenile in comparison to more violent protests going on in Crimea or Bangkok, this is an important distinction of Taiwanese culture not to be trivialized. Taiwanese society is characteristically nonviolent, the jovial events going on at these protests are a result of a Taiwanese shared consciousness that values peace and social gathering. It is these values that the Ma administration seems to be so out of touch with, and the reasons that the use of water cannons and riot police is so shocking to observers in Taiwan.

At this point, it seems that the protests have become about more than just Sinophobia or concern over ECFA and the Trade Services Agreement. Other Taiwanese groups, like the strong anti-nuclear and gay marriage movements, have also joined in the protests to voice their concerns and oppose the administration. Taiwan is still a very young democracy, less than 30 years old. The protests are now about the vision Taiwan has for its self-determination and the way it wants its democracy and society to be shaped for future generations.

The KMT will almost assuredly suffer severe political backlash as a result of the way the current administration has responded to the demands of the student protestors. Taiwanese politics are notoriously divided and at times raucous, especially where the issue of Taiwanese independence and Taiwan’s relationship with China is concerned. The opposition party has a chance to seize on this political capital and vindicate everything these student protestors have been saying, turning this from a fringe student movement into a mainstream political change that will drive the KMT out of office. Regardless of what happens in the halls of the government, however, the anger and hurt associated with this Sunflower movement will almost certainly continue far into the future, spelling only sadness for Taiwan’s young, fragile democracy.

Thursday, 21 November 2013 15:14

Universal Citizenship: A Utopian Possibility?

David Flacher, Vice-President of the Organization for Universal Citizenship, talks to us about their Universal Passport, which they have issued to a group of high profile individuals (amongst them former Portuguese president Mario Soares, former French footballer Lilian Thuram and Bangladeshi writer Taslima Nasreen) to raise awareness of their goals to bring freedom of movement and settlement to the people of the world.

For more information on the movement, please click here.

Tuesday, 15 October 2013 14:05

A Tale of Two Syrias

The Taiwan International Ethnographic Film Festival is a biannual festival, organized by the Taiwan Association of Visual Ethnography and held in Taipei. I was very glad to attend this year’s festival, and over the five-day event I saw many interesting and inspiring films. One that immediately stood out for me was the documentary A Tale of Two Syrias.  I studied Arabic in Damascus, and later returned there for work, so for me the film had a very personal appeal. Nevertheless, A Tale of Two Syrias makes interesting viewing for anyone who wants to know more about the region.

The film switches between two locations and two people.  In Damascus, we follow the story of Salem, an Iraqi fashion designer who fled from Baghdad during the Iraq war and hopes to seek asylum in America.  In Mar Musa, a remote hillside monastery in the Syrian countryside, we follow Botrus, a Syrian monk.  The film weaves between these two stories to paint an intimate portrait of a country that despite the recent media coverage, most people know very little about.   By capturing the difficulties faced by ordinary Syrians in Bashar al-Assad’s Syria and also their vision of a better, freer life in the future, in some ways the film pre-empts the current conflict.  However, through the beauty of Mar Musa and its inhabitants’ belief in inter-religious dialogue and mutual respect and tolerance, it also shows a vision of what that future Syria could be like.

I caught up with the director, Yasmin Fedda, whom I first met in Syria during my time there, and this is what she had to say:

eRenlai: It was great to see a film with a Middle East focus at the Taiwan Ethnographic Film Festival.  How did it happen?  Did they approach you?  Did you approach them?  What was the deal?

YF: I had heard of the Taiwan Ethnographic Film Festival through the Visual Anthropology networks that I am connected to, so I applied to them. They accepted, which was great!

eRenlai: Aside from your family links to the region, what was it that drew you to make a film about Syria?

 YF: At the time of filming, in 2010, there were still a very limited number of documentaries made in Syria, both by Syrians and internationals. I felt that it was important to make a film about regular- but unique- people's lives in a country that was largely misunderstood by the world's media.  

 eRenlai: "A Tale of Two Syrias" is an intriguing title. What are the "two Syrias" you tried to capture while you were filming? 

YF: I wanted to reflect the 2 stories of 2 individuals, the city and the country, the official and the unofficial, the before and the after.

eRenlai: Your film shows Syria through the perspective of two very different people, but nevertheless your two interviewees are both male, both Christian, and one of them is an Iraqi only recently arrived in Syria.  Why did you choose these two people in particular to represent the Syria of 2010?  Some people may question why you did not choose a Muslim or a female voice for example….

 YF: Good question. I realised after finishing it that some audiences have assumed that Salem, the Iraqi, is Christian, but in fact he is Muslim, but not very religious. At the time of editing I decided I didn't want to spell out what religion he is because he didn't either.  The only person's religion I did mention is that of Botrus. In Syria it wasn't strange for people of different religions to visit the shrines of other religions. I also think it is important to see that people’s religious beliefs and practices can be expressed in multiple ways, and being Muslim or Christian is not just done in one particular way that defines it for the rest. I also chose to have a story of an Iraqi refugee because up until 2010, up to 1 million Iraqis had gone through or settled in Syria and I wanted to humanise one of these experiences.

As for a female voice, I did try to find a female story, but after several different leads the stories didn't work out for various reasons (either bureaucratic, or difficult access to their particular stories). So yes I did intend to have a female voice.  But ultimately I was attracted to both Salem and Botrus’s stories as neither of them are your typical person in Syria and I think that gives an interesting perspective on life there at the time.

eRenlai: It was surprising that you managed to capture so many Syrians expressing their political opinions on camera (I am referring in particular to the discussions at Deir Mar Musa).  Was there any suspicion on their part?  Did you have to do much persuading? 

While people were discussing in Mar Musa I was allowed to film, due to being accepted by the community and also because I think people felt safe to speak there, so I didn't need to do any persuading. However the two discussions I filmed there now seem to reflect not only a different time, but also the issues that are pertinent today, like what does freedom look like and how do you share that and accept others?

eRenlai: Has the film ever been screened in Syria or the Middle East?  If so how was the film received?  What kind of comments did people have?

No, I haven't screened it in Syria or the Middle East, as it is difficult to do so at the moment. But many Syrians have seen it and have given me great feedback, which has been valuable to me. 

eRenlai: Could you talk about your changing emotions as the revolution in Syria started, then after a few months when it became clear there was going to be no quick toppling of the regime as in Libya or Tunisia, and finally when the revolution became a bloody civil war.

I was, of course, excited by the potential in Syria for change from dictatorship, and I still support this change. It became clear that this would not be easy as soon as the regime’s forces started killing people at protests and funerals, imprisoning and torturing thousands and using indiscriminate force in various parts of the country.

It is very sad and distressing to see the violence and destruction occurring in Syria today, and a strong solution to end the violence is needed as soon as possible, and then a transition to a different system of governance needs to be built.

Because of events in Syria today, the whole film has a sense of irony, tension and impending disaster it might not have had otherwise.  Had there been no conflict in Syria as you were editing the film, would you have made your film differently? What would you have changed and why?

I am sure it would have been edited completely differently, and my perspectives would have been different. It is difficult to know what would have been different as making a film is also very instinctive, and I was editing whilst the revolution was gaining ground and there was increasing repression and violence. I could not separate those things from editing. But in saying that, the Syria I filmed in was run by an authoritarian regime with much structural violence, rising poverty, crony capitalism, and many other problems. It was far from being a non-conflicted country even then. So I feel that this sense of disaster was there, even in 2010, but it wasn't clear where it was going exactly. The tension was there and I re-found it in the footage as I was editing.

eRenlai: At what stage of the editing process did the revolution start?  How far had you got with the film?

The revolution started just as I started editing, so it was difficult to see the footage of a few months before with the current news of what was happening in Syria. It took a while for me to edit after that as I could not edit the film easily due to these changes in Syria and the effects these were having on friends and family there. I took a few months off from editing, and then returned to it, knowing that the situation there had changed dramatically.

eRenlai: Before the conflict, Syria was not often talked about in the media.  Now, because of the conflict, Syria and films about Syria are getting far greater public attention.  As a film-maker, could you describe your feelings when faced with this reality?

While there is a lot of media attention about Syria I feel that there is not enough that deals with it more deeply, as most of the work is about war, which can be quite frustrating. That being said there are more and more great films being made there and they are slowly being filtered out into the world.

eRenlai: With the escalation of the conflict into a civil war between a multitude of actors, some of whom have shown themselves to be just as brutal as the regime, can we still call the conflict a "revolution"?  Can we still say that all factions of the rebels in Syria are fighting for freedom?

I think we can say that there is a lot happening in Syria and one of those things is a revolution. There are many other conflicts and fights going on at the same time but that does not mean we must sideline those that work non-violently or who focus on a change from dictatorship or for democracy. Silencing or ignoring them is dangerous, as is understanding the conflict in Syria in narrow terms, such as a conflict made up only of fighting factions, or of extremists, or full of brutal leaders. In reality there are many opinions and approaches.

Also it is important to keep things in perspective. The regime has, and still does, have majority of control of violence. The majority of destruction has been due to the regimes shelling and attacks, as have been most tortures, arrests and killings.

What is happening in Syria can also be called 'uprisings', a set of political processes that are occurring at the same time, trying to work out what they are and where they are going.  Also the term 'Freedom' depends on your definition of it, so yes, many factions may be fighting for that, and the challenge is reconciling those different interpretations of the term.

eRenlai: What do you think when you hear what some Syrians interviewed in the media –both in Syria and outside the country- are saying; that they preferred things as they were under Bashar al-Assad to the chaos reigning in their country today?

I hear a variety of opinions coming out of Syria but I cannot say that I have heard this opinion very often at all. On the contrary, I hear the opposite much more. Many people ask for an end to the chaos and violence but recognise that the regime has been the driving force for this chaos from the start in order to win popular support and to become even more entrenched. 

Some people do say they prefer Bashar al Assad, and others that they support someone else or some other group, and many others still that they prefer neither of these options.  I think this reflects the diversity of experiences and opinions across the country and I think this variety needs to be acknowledged and a space for it created in the future.

eRenlai: Christians in Syria today- and the village of Maaloula in particular where some of your film was shot- are not being persecuted by the regime, but rather by Islamist factions of the opposition. How does this affect Christians' place in the struggle against the regime?  They must be in a difficult position now...

I think the premise of this question is wrong and you cannot assume that Christians as a whole are being persecuted.  Many Christians have been persecuted by the regime pre and post conflict. At the same time there were individuals that were close to the regime and have favourable positions because of this. Sectarianism was used by the regime as a tool to consolidate power, both before and during the uprising against it. So this is a very complicated situation, as it is for Syrians of all backgrounds, including for Muslims, Druze, or atheists.

I think it is important not to see Christians as one homogenous group of people. There are many differing opinions and experiences which affect people's decisions so I don't think it makes sense to phrase the issue as the 'Christians' place in the struggle against the regime. It is about Syrians as a whole, people all over Syria are being targeted.

eRenlai: What is the best scenario for religious minorities in Syria?  At the moment things do not look good either way for them...

I don't believe this is a healthy way to see this issue. I think the best thing is to treat everyone as Syrians, as this is isn't a sectarian conflict, and is still one based on power struggles.  By saying that religious minorities are having a hard time, you are ignoring that the fact that the 'majority ' of Syrians, many of whom are Sunni Muslims, are also having a very hard time.  Everyone is affected by the conflict in deep ways and this must be recognised for everyone.

 It is important to point out that the regime has aimed since the start to make this a sectarian conflict, and this kind of narrative supports their aim. Sectarianism exists, but the uprising did not begin as a sectarian uprising.

eRenlai: Going back to your title, “A Tale of Two Syrias”, what "two Syrias" (or more than two) can you envisage in the future when this horrible conflict has come to an end?

It will take a long time to rebuild Syria but I hope it will be just one Syria after the conflict. One that is based on dignity, equality and able to accept diversity of opinion, whatever it might be. 

eRenlai: Will you be returning to the Middle East for another filming project soon? 

I am going to be working in Jordan very soon, filming a theatre production of The Trojan Women by Euripides, set in the modern Syrian conflict and made with Syrian refugees who now live there. 


For more information about Yasmin please visit her site,


Monday, 07 October 2013 15:00

Film Review: The Queen has No Crown

The film
The Queen has no Crown was shown as part of the five-day Taiwan International Ethnographic Film Festival 2013. It's being held at the Wonderful Theatre, just opposite exit 6 of Ximen MRT - the last day is tomorrow, so try and catch at least one of the fantastic documentaries being shown. If you missed out on this film, you can catch a screening of I Shot My Love on the 9th October at the Freshman Classroom Building 102, Taipei at 18:30

Wednesday, 16 October 2013 07:57

Publishing Debate part 2: Are you sure we're still really free?

The Cross-strait Trade on Services Agreement is a mirror into a possible dystopian future, in which appears a undemocratic Taiwan, lacking in freedom. Regardless if you're for or against the opening up, the publishing industry should take this opportunity to reflect on their own problems.

By Sharky Chen (the head of commaBOOKS Publishing House), translated from the original Chinese by Conor Stuart. Photo by 楊忠銘.

Sunday, 06 October 2013 16:19

Publishing Debate part 1: Greater Freedoms Grant Greater Power

The Cross-strait Trade on Services Agreement does not, nominally at least, extend to the publishing industry, but it has unleashed an explosive debate in the publishing industry. Those in favour and those against both agree that 'freedom' is at the heart of Taiwan's publishing industry and that it's a value that must be upheld, but they hold opposing views of the effect that the implementation of the agreement will have on the industry. This special two part series allows two publishers on opposite sides of the argument to air their views, giving the reader a fuller picture of the possible advantages and drawbacks that the agreement will bring. The second article is available here.

What does the publishing industry really have to fear from the Cross-strait Trade in Services Agreement?

By Octw Chen (A long-time publishing industry insider), translated from the original Chinese by Conor Stuart. Photo by 楊忠銘.

Under the pressure of China's large capital is Taiwan left with no other option and destined to go under? The strong "soft" power of the vital and diverse space cultivated by publishing freedom might just exceed our expectations...

Are we really seeing things clearly when we talk about the Cross-strait Trade in Services Agreement?

A new debate has broken out in Taiwan surrounding the signing of the Cross-strait Trade in Services Agreement. What's interesting is that it was in the publishing industry that the controversy first blew up, despite the fact that this industry has no direct relationship to the content of the agreement. Despite the fact that the publishing industry wasn't one of the industries under discussion in this agreement, some of the topics discussed are very interesting and deserve further discussion. However, it's necessary to first state that what follows is limited to the publishing industry and that this essay is unable to make a more comprehensive judgment on the merits of the trade agreement as a whole, or to state with authority what effect it will have on other industries.

According to the views expressed by Hao Mingyi in his piece 'We have less than 24 hours left', which was the subject of much debate, Taiwan's publishing industry is a model for cultural industry that will quickly be swallowed up and obliterated when the market is opened up. Publishers on the other side of the strait need only kill us softly with cash injections and these 'essentially small scale, micro-industries' will 'all be outgunned, unable to escape going under or being bought out'.

Is this true? Is the publishing industry in Taiwan really so weak that it can't even withstand one blow? This assertion really is rather horrifying and it certainly serves the function of scaremongering well, the only unfortunate thing about it though is that it does nothing to explain the status quo.

In a creative and innovative industry it's hard to succeed just with capital

It's true that we have countless micro-publishers. We also have a publishing market that is the most liberal, fortified and competitive in the history of the Republic of China. However, because of this, in the best-seller lists, it is the small to medium sized publishing houses that are strongest when it comes to innovation, influence and competition.

In the 2012 top hundred overall bestseller list, the hundred books came from forty-four different publishing houses. This would be hard to imagine in a country like the United States – the bestseller list in America is the province of six major publishing groups (Oh yeah, that's right, now there's only five!) – the fact that Taiwan's bestsellers aren't concentrated in a few publishing houses is testament to the fact that no one publishing house in Taiwan enjoys market dominance.

The bestseller list has another peculiarity, which is that small to medium-scale publishing houses feature prominently, making up more than half of the total, with even a few legendary one-man publishing houses. These small- to medium-scale publishing houses have little fear of the capital of larger-scale publishing houses and they even outperform them by quite a margin in the bestseller rankings.

'Is this particularly out of the ordinary?' you might ask. Of course it is. This is indicative of the fact that Taiwan's publishing industry is still based on innovation and creativity and that you can't dominate the market with just capital. There have been competing investments from Hong Kong, Japan, the UK and the US in Taiwan's publishing market, but no single publishing group or foreign investor has achieved market dominance and no foreign investor has been able to use their vast capital and resources to defeat the innovative and creative small- to medium-scale publishing houses.

This is the simple reality of Taiwan's publishing market since the end of Martial Law in 1987.

The assertion that Taiwan's publishing market is too unconstrained, that it lacks security and as a result is too easy to infiltrate or 'invade', not only demonstrates an inability to understand the status quo, but also an ignorance of the way a free system functions.

The publishing market is already a healthy ecosystem

If Taiwan's publishing industry is defenseless, why hasn't it been monopolized by a major publishing group? I my opinion, this is because of publishing freedom. In Taiwan nobody can stop you starting up a publishing house or starting a publishing branch of your company or even just striking out on your own as a self-published author without need of a company, you just need to apply to the ISBN centre of the National Central Library for your own ISBN – you can even call them up to complain if they're not quick enough about it.

As this industry is so simple, in the past few decades many people working in the publishing industry have resigned their posts at big companies and starting out in their own micro-publishing house, making waves in the book market with a lot more capacity for innovation than bigger companies. This is an industry that is impossible to monopolize, because the industry allows for new people and companies on the scene, not only in terms of the lack of a structural hierarchy but also in terms of the ability to do business. You don't need to have a lot of capital to play the game and there's no burdensome entrance fee. The top hundred bestsellers' list tells us that you can make an impact on the bestseller list with just your own individual intelligence and hard work.

You'd be hard-pressed to find another industry in Taiwan that values individual creativity so much, and this is all due to the individual transactions of the readers as they choose this book or that. Anyone seeking to dominate the market wouldn't be able to do it just by buying up all the existing publishing houses, they would also have to pay off all the editors to prevent them from setting up shop themselves. How can one clamp down on the freedom to start one's own business? And how also, can one dictate reading preferences to readers on a national scale? If capital could warp preferences when it comes to buying books, then the top hundred bestseller list should, by rights, be dominated by big companies.

I believe that Taiwan's publishing market is already a healthy eco-system, it is strong enough and determined enough to withstand 'invaders' from abroad, these 'invaders' could even be said to strengthen the industry by challenging it. This is the truly formidable power of Taiwan's publishing industry.

The best defense is in not erecting walls around ourselves

In an article in Next Magazine under the title 'A great place for reading', Zhan Hongzhi, the founder of Cite Publishing stated, 'Historically, the places where there was most freedom to print and publish often became the places were cultural renaissances took shape amongst a diverse range of voices.' Such was the Dutch enlightenment, wherein many French and English thinkers, because their views were proscribed in their own countries, were forced to publish their most important works in the Netherlands. Freedom and openness pushed the Netherlands to be a country at the forefront of European thought at that time, attracting a talented elite, allowing this small Western European country to cut a formidable figure on the seas in competition with the English and the Spanish. Dutch navigators were more or less engaged in global trade even then.

Freedom and liberty forged the Netherlands' golden era, likewise, publishing freedom is an extremely valuable soft power for Taiwan. It represents not only the collecting together of ideas, but it serves to awaken our minds – only places where there is publishing freedom will win the recognition of intellectuals.

What's most startling about the viewpoints that have been put forward concerning the publishing industry amidst the controversy surrounding the trade in services agreement is that these commentators seem to see Taiwan's clear strength as its weakness. The firm ground of freedom is seen as unable to withstand even one blow. When we should be upholding freedom, we instead build a high wall to cut ourselves off. This viewpoint is blind to the reality of the publishing industry, and underestimates its strength. If this viewpoint becomes the popular one, then that is a pity for Taiwan and if it goes further and becomes government policy, than that will be a tragedy for Taiwan – as our greatest advantage will be destroyed by our own hand.

We do need to protect Taiwan's publishing freedom, but the best way to do this is not to build ourselves a greenhouse, that will, on the contrary, destroy competition within the industry. The best line of defence is to continue to give free reign to competition, only then will the industry continue to cultivate publishers with determination, who will, when unhappy, be able to go their own way and start up influential independent publishing houses. To ensure that the eco-system continues to be balanced, innovative, free and diverse, this is the only way in which we can safeguard Taiwan's publishing industry.

Tuesday, 23 April 2013 16:04

A Fight between David and Goliath

Non-violent resistance against the construction of a naval base in South Korea

Since 2007, a small village in South Korea has led a non-violent resistance against the construction of a naval base next door to a UNESCO biosphere reserve. The official reasons for the construction of a military base on the self-governing island of Jeju, about 80 kilometers from the mainland, are to allow for better policing of the sea-lanes and faster response to any acts of aggression by North Korea.

Wednesday, 03 April 2013 15:27

Human Rights in Taiwan Under Review

From February 25 to March 1 2013, an international group composed by 10 human rights experts and legal scholars was invited to Taiwan to supervise the review process of the country's initial reports under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) that Ma Ying-Jeou signed in March 2009. The structure and dynamics of the review meeting made the event unique in its genre, as it did not only expose the official human rights records to the scrutiny of an international committee, but it also provided Taiwan's civil society with the opportunity to actively participate and be directly involved in the monitoring process.

Despite not being a member of the United Nations (UN) since 1971, Taiwan ratified the two UN covenants with the aim to gradually conform its domestic laws and legislations to the international legal framework concerning the protection and safeguard of human rights. The Implementation Act was thus promulgated in December 2009 precisely with the objective to integrate the two UN covenants into the national legal system and to guarantee the actual legal effect of the two international treaties. To assess the degree of compliance of the domestic legal framework with the two UN covenants, an official human rights report was issued by Taiwan's government authorities in April 2012 and was subjected to the accurate examination of the review committee.

"The fact that a group of 10 international experts has been invited to Taiwan to review independently the human rights system of the country is undoubtedly an important fact," said Brian Barbour, Executive Board Member of the Asia Pacific Refugee Rights Network. "Moreover, it was remarkable to have hundreds of officials attending the review meeting every day, along with the presence of local NGOs which had the opportunity to directly speak with the committee members," he further added. Every day from February 25 to 27, the review committee attended formal meetings with NGOs members in the morning and with government representatives in the afternoon. The international panel of experts had therefore the possibility to incorporate human rights official records with in depth information provided by civil society actors.

The panel of international experts has repeatedly stressed the pivotal role that civil society actors had in submitting detailed comments on the situation of human rights in Taiwan to the review committee. Unlike the UN official model for the review of the implementation of the ICCPR and the ICESCR - which does not contemplate the formal partecipation of NGOs in the process, the review mechanism in Taiwan offered local human rights activists and practitioners "the opportunity to establish themselves as an authoritative voice," highlighted chairman of the Union for Civil Liberty Danthong Breen. During the review process, Covenants Watch, a coalition of civil associations set up to supervise the implementation of the two international treaties, and Taiwan Association for Human Rights (TAHR) jointly presented a list of 45 core issues that, in their opinion, deserve closer attention by official authorities – and that are further addressed in the human rights "shadow report" which they published in May 2012.

After carefully examining the information discussed during the review meeting, on March 01 the panel of experts finally made public a set of recommendations in a press conference. In the "Concluding Observations" report, the committee members clearly pointed out that since the ICCPR and the ICESCR have been adopted by Taiwan's government as part of the national legal framework, they are already abiding and, in case of contradiction with domestic laws, they should take the precedence over the latter. The international experts thus called for Taiwan's government to strengthen the training of judges, legal practitioners and prosecutors in order to guarantee the proper application and enforcement of the two UN covenant also in practice.

The establishment of an independent human rights commission in Taiwan was highly recommended by the committee members, who further called for government authorities to adopt other UN international treaties and to better comply with the mechanism of human rights protection illustrated in the "Paris Principles".

Professor of law and human rights at the University of Vienna and former UN special rapporteur on torture, Manfred Nowak pointed out that the most serious problem under the ICCPR is the continuous use of the death penalty in Taiwan[1]. Nowak, who already visited the country in November 2011 to give a speech on torture at National Taiwan University, stated that in the last 15 executions carried out by Taiwan's government there was a clear violation of Article 6(4) of the ICCPR, according to which "anyone sentenced to death shall have the right to seek pardon or commutation of sentence."

The issue of the death penalty was a significantly debated topic during the review meeting, especially in light of the recent six executions that Taiwan's government carried out on December 23 2012. When rumors regarding the imminent executions of death row inmates began to spread in late November, two members of the review committee - Novak and Eibe Riedel, had sent a letter to president Ma Ying-jeou asking government authorities not to carry out any execution before the review process would be completed. They stated that any eventual execution would seriously undermine the successful outcome of the review meeting and cause the international experts' possible withdrawal from their review assignment. On February 26 during the examination of ICCPR Articles 6 to 13, Novak has pointed out that notwithstanding the recent executions, the review committee members nonetheless decided to accomplish their duties and perform their responsibilities as previously accorded, with the aim of fostering the process of abolition of the death penalty in Taiwan.

Government representatives have repeatedly stated that the abolition of the death penalty is a sensitive issue in Taiwan, since 78% of the population supports it. The recent executions, for instance, had been carried out in the context of a growing concern regarding the actual level of security of Taiwanese society, in order to avoid further negative public reaction[2]. Given that the majority of the public opinion perceives the death penalty as a deterrent to criminal activities, official authorities have argued that the process of abolition must be a "gradual and progressive" one.

Asma Jahangir, head of the Supreme Court Bar Association of Pakistan, has however stressed that in many countries where the death penalty has been now officially abrogated, the vast majority of the population was actually in favor of its use before the abolition process took place. She has moreover added that she understands that the process of abolition in Taiwan has to be "gradual and progressive", but she also called for government authorities to show a greater commitment in fastening the whole procedure.

Reiterating Jahangir's words, Novak has also pointed out that there is no clear evidence that the use of the death penalty acts as a crime deterrent, by adding that in the path toward abolition Taiwan should guarantee a greater compliance with the ICCPR with regard to the right to seek pardon or commutation of sentence. All six death row inmates recently executed in December had indeed applied for pardon and were waiting for the president's decision on their request prior their execution. The priority of Taiwan's government, the international experts unanimously stated, however still remains to promptly impose a moratorium on the use of the death penalty .

Another important issue highlighted by the review committee was the problem of forced evictions, which are currently affecting hundreds of family all over Taiwan. The experts addressed a number of specific cases, "but the most important point consisted in calling for Taiwan's government to provide proper consultation and adequate housing in case of proposed evictions," said Roseann Rife, Amnesty International's East Asia director.

Particular attention was laid on the highly controversial case of the forced eviction of the Huaguang community in Taipei. While a group of supporters and activists was demonstrating outside the Ministry of Justice (MOJ), showing their concern about the dramatic future of the community, some Huaguang representative members had the opportunity to directly illustrate their problematic housing situation to the international experts during the review meeting.

Huaguang residents are indeed facing an imminent and drastic eviction due to their "illegal occupation"[3] of the land where their dwellings are located, which is formally owned by the MOJ. The dislocation of the inhabitants and the demolition of their residences are the first steps toward the complete renewal of this traditional neighborhood located in the heart of Taipei, which seems to be doomed to become the new financial district of the city.

The review committee has pointed out that in this case, government legal proceedings aimed at the eviction of Huaguang community members and the demolition of their dwellings are evidently not complying with Article 11 of the ICESCR which, along with UN ICESCR General Comment 4 and 7, guarantees the right to adequate housing and declares the incompatibility of forced evictions with the requirements of the covenant. In particular, as highlighted by TAHR Executive Secretary Shih Yi-Hsiang, UN ICECSR General Comment 4(8) guarantees the legal protection of tenure, the latter defined also as "emergency housing and informal settlements, including occupation of land or property" – definition that clearly addresses the peculiar legal status of living communities such as the Huaguang community in Taipei.

In the "Concluding Observations", the international experts have therefore call for Taiwan's government to act accordingly the ICESCR by providing a formal consultation with Huaguang residents and by developing a settlement plan for the community members. In the meantime, they further added, the MOJ should halt forced evictions and demolitions plans in the area – and as pointed out by Shih Yi-Hsiang, Article 6 of the Implementation Act defines the "Concluding Observations" as a human rights report which has legal status, thus making it not just a compendium of suggestions but a set of abiding legal provisions.

With regard to refugee rights, Brian Barbour stated that Taiwan is one of the few Asian countries that actually has a refugee law, although still at draft stage. He suggested official authorities to take into account the comments that local NGOs submitted on the law to the committee members, with special reference to the exclusion of the Tibetan and Mainland Chinese population from the refugee law draft in Taiwan. He then added the importance of further investigating the issue of immigration detention and the situation of children who, in order to be kept with their detained parents, are currently imprisoned in Taiwan.

Most significantly, the international experts urged Taiwan's government to develop a follow-up plan and stressed the importance of an active collaboration between official authorities and civil society actors to comprehensively address human rights issues in Taiwan. According to the committee members, the government and local NGOs should interact more consistently to guarantee that progress is made in the implementation of the two UN covenants and in the enhancement of human rights protection in Taiwan.

Photo courtesy of the Taiwan Association for Human Rights.


[1] After an unofficial moratorium on executions lasted from 2006 to 2009, in 2010 Taiwan's government resumed the use of the death penalty by carrying out four execution in April of the same year, five in March 2011 and six in December 2012.
[2] On December 2 2012 in Greater Tainan, a 10 year-old boy was found killed by a man who claimed that he was not worried about either the process nor the sentence, since he added that in Taiwan no one is sentenced to death for the murder of one or two people. The episode fueled a general feeling of indignation for and dissatisfaction with the national judicial system, which public opinion accused to be too clement toward criminals and inmates.
[3] The Huaguang community members have been recently sued by the MOJ with the alleged accusations of "illegal occupation" (違法占用) and "illegal profit" (不當得利), but given the particular history of this neighborhood, government's decision has triggered the indignation of Huaguang residents and their supporters. The peculiarity of this residential community has indeed to be traced back to 1949, when the Nationalist Party (Guomindang, KMT) flew from mainland China to Taiwan, followed by a high number of military and party officials, along with their families. As the lack of abundant land where to build dwellings for the "new incomers", government authorities offered military and official employees the chance to settle down in Huaguang neighborhood, which at that time was property of the MOJ. Since then, relatives of the first generation of KMT officials have been living in Huaguang, by paying taxes and being provided with water and electricity, among other services. What has been recently labeled as "illegal" seems suddenly not to take into consideration the "legal" agreement between KMT government and its employees in the past, which had not been questioned until a decade ago when a new urban project for the area was proposed.


Thursday, 10 November 2011 00:00

An all-new flavour? Australia’s Asian Century

Their knowledge of China is thin. They relate to the world outside through a limited range of material symbols rather than through deep cultural engagement.[1]

To those of us following media commentary immediately after Australia’s Prime Minister Julia Gillard pronounced “we are truly already a decade into an Asian century”[2], the above statement would be familiar.

Routine sentiment appeared on the airwaves: Australian students show no interest in studying Asian languages; government funding is misdirected; there is an entrenched failure of Australians to grasp even the most basic cultural aspects of our northern neighbours. Not just China, but India, Indonesia, South Korea and the rest. Even Japan, our old mate, remains as misunderstood as ever.

Sure, Australians love a good curry and are happy to chill out on an island in southern Thailand. Aussies might even feign worldliness so far as to tattoo exotic scripts down their sunburnt and rippling biceps, but they just don’t really comprehend the place. "Asia? I’ll get back to ya on that one, mate".

But the quotation leading this article was not about Australia, it was about Hong Kong, about the professional elite in Hong Kong. A place that is as close to China as you can get—physically and politically—and a demographic whose wealth is arguably much closer tied to the palpitations of the Chinese economy than that of the average Australian is. It would appear that Australia is not alone in puzzling over a "deep cultural engagement" with the emerging Asian powers.

Now it is true that Australia, as a nation, struggles to articulate how it fits into Asia. This is nothing new. The White Australia Policy restricted immigration to Europeans and was in place for over 70 years. Politicians, both maverick (independent representative Pauline Hanson) and mainstream (former Prime Minister John Howard)[3] have expressed concern about Australia’s place in Asia. During my first year as an economic history student in 1997, I was required to read an article in The Economist that reminded us “The idea that Australia’s future belongs in Asia has been around a long time”[4]

As a former British colony, Australia’s links to England have remained, albeit less strong than in the past. While the Queen managed to generate decent crowds and cloying press coverage during her recent tour, Oprah Winfrey might well have been even more popular when she came ‘down under[5]’ last year.

Historically, or so it goes, as the British Empire waned, Australia’s alliance with the USA grew. Gillard recently gushed to a joint sitting of the US Congress, “you have a true friend down under”[6]. Hokey, yes, but an accurate reflection of Australia’s diplomatic, military and political connections. And for many of us, cultural connections too. America still exerts a strong push and pull through electronic and other media.

In this context, many eyebrows were raised in late September 2011 when Gillard announced the impending publication of a discussion paper called Australia in the Asian Century. This weighty tome is designed to uncover the risks and opportunities in a world where Europe and North America do not dominate as they have in the past. Australian government policy needs to be guided in this reoriented world and this paper will help set the bearings.

Of course, Gillard’s enthusiasm for the 'Asian Century' must be put into context. Domestically her popularity has been dire and the political conversation here is constantly bogged down by the opportunistic and oppugnant opposition leader. Insular matters such as regulating poker machines and dealing with boat people have dominated headlines. When it comes to Asia, Gillard has been hidden by the shadows of Australia’s Mandarin-speaking former PM and current foreign minister, Kevin Rudd (aka Kevin07 aka 陸克文). The ‘Asian Century’ discussion paper is a chance for her to shape Australia’s future engagement with the region and kick some domestic political goals at the same time. Tellingly, the leader of the task force, his three colleagues in the committee of cabinet, and the further three members of the external advisory panel are all economists[7]. Eminent and successful economists, of course, but economist nonetheless, and therefore likely to emphasize the broadening financial dimensions of the Australia/Asia relationship(s).

As the impact of Gillard’s announcement has settled, a range of considered opinions beyond the economic aspects have emerged. Some optimistic for the future, some mournful for missed opportunities. Australia’s national broadsheet newspaper, The Australian, has praised Sydney University’s attempt to create academic linkages with China[8]. The leading security strategist, Hugh White, has floated the sensible idea that in order to truly boost the Asian language capacity of young Australians, the government should fund 1-2 year exchanges in the region[9]. In an online (and utterly unscientific) poll, 56% of respondents supported his idea. Bloggers at the Lowy Institute (an international policy think tank) have canvassed various issues inherent in Australia’s Asian connections. From reading these exchanges, it emerges that, among other things, there is resistance among Australian students to learning Asian languages. Many high school students studying foreign languages have an ethnic connection to the particular language, either through their parents or having grown up overseas. Students without this ‘advantage’ do not wish to take these classes for fear of bleeding grades to the better-equipped students. Reflecting a sense of intimidation masquerading as ambivalence, Australians tend to think “Why bother trying in a cosmopolitan world where English is the lingua franca? Learning a language is just too bloody hard, and besides, just because you know the language doesn’t mean you know the place… right? ”.

Not necessarily. Drawing on the long-standing debate about Australia’s ‘China literacy’, Geremie Barmé affirmed at the 2011 Australian Centre on China in the World Inaugural Lecture that

Those who rely for their literacy of China on the translated, whose interests are confined to that which is relevant or useful but in the short term, whether it be in the sphere of business or diplomacy, need to appreciate the fact that whatever their Chinese contacts might say to their face about their ability to 'understand China', perhaps even calling them a 中国通, in the end they'll be considered at best a simple-minded, even malleable, friend. So long as things go well, everyone muddles through. But when they don't, there's no substitute for the ability to think about, engage within and contend with a China that is itself a world of complexity[10].

Pro-China and pro-Tibet supporters mingle with locals at the Beijing Olympic Torch relay - Canberra, April 2008 (P. Farrelly)

I doubt that any Australian (or anyone not versed in the vernacular, for that matter) could claim that they truly understood a country if the didn’t understand the ‘local lingo’. No matter how many topical books and subtitled shows the monoglot devours, he or she will always be scrambling for the full story. Fluency, or even just proficiency, in the native tongue opens a whole different dimension of experience. Walking down the street becomes a new realm of opportunity, with advertisements to interpret and chatter to overhear, goods to buy and transport systems to navigate. With language skills, business meetings, conferences and banquets become even greater opportunities to forge connections. Many businessmen/women would no doubt attest that deals are generally not made on a country-to-country or even company-to-company level, but between individuals.

In conceptualising the ‘Asian century’, a considerable dose of nuance must be applied. The linguistic, cultural and developmental differences within places such as India and China can be almost as glaring as those that separate them. How does one simultaneously understand authoritarian pariah states such as Burma and North Korea and robust democracies such as Japan and Taiwan? Lapsing into monolithic generalisations about Asia presents a genuine risk. Subtlety will be required in ‘Australia’s Asian Century’.

Australia is not alone in trying to adjust to the recalibrated world order, and this in itself is something to consider. The countries mentioned above, along with every other nation under the sun, are trying to make sense of the new global landscape. Politically, economically, militarily, linguistically and culturally, nations around the world are seeking to determine the trade-offs required to best hitch their prosperity on to the Asian high-speed train of development.

The extent to which Australia is connected with Asia is something Australians can no longer stick their heads in the sand about. Our football team, the Socceroos, are preparing to battle Thailand in a waterlogged Bangkok to inch closer to the 2014 World Cup Finals. This weekend the Korea pop juggernaut blasts into town for an arena show in Sydney[11]. These events might well have been inconceivable even just a decade ago, having been shaped by recent (but long-gestating) diplomatic and cultural evolutions. Along with curry and discount flights to tropical islands, they are but two examples of what Helen F. Siu might refer as the “limited range of material symbols” that Australians use to understand Asia. Limited, perhaps, but still signs of some sort of ongoing integration and awareness.

Prime Minister Gillard’s speech from the launch of the ‘Asian Century’ is riddled with use of the ‘new’. New powers. New investment. New strengths. New Asian middle class. New relationships. New century.

And yes, much of ‘Australia’s Asian Century’ is new, some of it strikingly so. But what if you were to ask an old Australian Digger[12] about the ‘Asian century’? Someone who fought the Japanese in Malaya in WWII, who spent time rotting away in the Changi prisoner of war camp in Singapore. Someone who then went on to do business with the Japanese, helping hitch his homeland’s economy to that of the booming one of his former, bitter enemy. The old Digger might have a different perspective. His century, the 20th, was very much an Asian one. Not just for him, but for Australia too.

How Australia deals with the ‘Asian century’ will be interesting. How Asia deals with the ‘Asian century’ will be interesting too! The team writing the government report will no doubt adroitly address the important economic issues. However, complex cultural and linguistic elements should not be deemphasised. A ‘deep cultural engagement’ with our Asian neighbours will surely benefit all.


[1] Helen F. Siu, “A Provincialized Middle Class in Hong Kong” in Worlding Cities: Asian Experiments and the Art of Being Global, edited by Ananya Roy and Aihwa Ong. Blackwell 2011. Page 136.



[4] ‘A national identity crisis’, The Economist, 14 December 1996.

[5] ‘Down under’ refers to Australia. See this old tourism advertisement featuring Paul ‘Crocodile Dundee’ - The Wonders Down Under







[12] A ‘digger’ is slang for an Australian soldier

Monday, 18 April 2011 17:20

Looking South: Taiwan’s Diplomacy and Rivalry with China in the Pacific Islands Region

Taiwan has diplomatic relations with six Pacific Island Countries (PICs) - KiribatiMarshall IslandsNauruPalauSolomon Islands and Tuvalu.[1] This means that the People’s Republic of China (PRC) still faces a challenge in the South Pacific that no longer exists in the other sub-regions of Asia-Pacific. In Asia, the ‘one China’ policy is a rule with no exceptions. No Asian state would today even contemplate the idea of switching allegiance from Beijing to Taipei. The Middle Kingdom has been seeking the same level of compliance in the Pacific Islands Region. Consequently, China’s involvement in the South Pacific is primarily due to the capacity of the island states to accord diplomatic recognition, and only to a lesser - but not negligible - extent to the region’s economic and strategic characteristics.[2] As the economies of the two Asian contenders have grown, their rivalry has escalated as the resources available to both have increased, bolstering the South Pacific ‘diplomatic market’. This market has been sustained also by the small PICs, that look at the Cross-Strait rivalry as an opportunity to extract development assistance and supplement their limited resources. Today, China has more avenues of influence and greater economic resources than Taiwan can match and the imbalance is likely to keep increasing. Such a development will factor highly in the diplomatic recognition equation since China will be able to appeal to the PICs’ development aspirations with more than just international aid.[3] Yet, Taiwan has been able to win the diplomatic recognition of some island states which are “sufficiently indifferent to China’s power.”[4] Moreover, the fewer allies Taiwan has, the more aid money it can allocate for each, and the more difficult is for China to outbid its Cross-Strait rival. Over the last decade, the intensification of the Sino-Taiwanese diplomatic competition in the South Pacific has progressively antagonised Australian interests and those of the two Chinese rivals, and introduced an additional element of complication in Canberra’s relations with the island states. Recently, the tension has been lowered by a positive development in the Cross-Strait dynamic. In fact, today the two dragons seem to be at a pivotal but still ephemeral turning point, having apparently agreed a ‘diplomatic truce’ which looks stable but also easily reversible.

This paper analyses the Cross-Strait rivalry in the Pacific Islands Region at this crucial juncture. It draws on a vast array of scholarly publications, news reports, and official documentation. The paper contends that, even though the two Asian rivals do not generally acknowledge it, their competition has been conducted mainly through ‘chequebook diplomacy’ - diplomatic recognition in return for not-very transparent development assistance. The paper looks at the type of aid that the two sides of Taiwan Strait are providing to their Pacific allies, and how diplomatic allegiance is maintained and gained. The article argues that the PICs are not the passive objects of the Sino-Taiwanese confrontation, but rather are active co-creators of the rivalry. While this involvement has, under many respects, a negative impact on the PICs’ society, political process and international perception, it would be simplistic to maintain that the island states have not benefited from the aid provided by the two Asian powers, which represents a few-strings attached alternative to the more substantial but highly conditional Western development assistance. The paper initially begins with briefly outlining the historical unfolding of China-Taiwan rivalry in the South Pacific. It then examines what the two opponents are spending and how their diplomatic relationships with the Pacific Islandsare maintained and, occasionally, laboriously won. Next, the paper investigates the islands states’ practice of auctioning their diplomatic recognition and the role played by the PICs as Cross-Strait rivalry co-creators. The paper then analyses the challenges posed by the Sino-Formosan rivalry to the longstanding dominant power in the region,Australia, and identifies the opportunities that the Cross-Strait detente presents to Canberra and the two Asian contenders. Finally, the paper briefly re-examines the contentious issue of the damages and benefits to the PICs from the rivalry, and the prospects for the ‘diplomatic truce’.

A battle of enticements: China-Taiwan diplomatic rivalry in the South Pacific

Pacific Islands’ transition to independence from the late 1960s to early 1980s delivered new opportunities for the diplomatic Sino-Taiwanese diplomatic rivalry.[5] The transfer of the permanent seat and the right of veto in the United Nations Security Council from the Republic of China (ROC), controlling Taiwan and some island groups nearby, to Beijing played a crucial role in this competition. For example, Australian governmental records reveal that Beijing’s influence in the UN was decisive in establishing exclusive diplomatic relations with Papua New Guinea (PNG).[6] However, Taiwan’s rise to ‘Asian tiger’ status through the 1970s and 1980s assisted Taipei in winning the allegiance of several PICs, partially counterbalancing China’s bigger international footprint.[7] For instance, Taiwan was reportedly able to establish diplomatic relations with the Solomon Islands thanks to Taipei’s economic incentives.[8] By 1988, Taiwan had the recognition of four PICs - TongaSolomon IslandsNauru and Tuvalu - and the PRC the recognition of five - PNG, SamoaFijiKiribati and Vanuatu. The basis of the Sino-Taiwanese contention in the South Pacific underwent a change with Taiwan’s transition to democracy. Starting with Lee Teng-hui’s presidential tenure, Taipei increasingly commenced to act more as the government of Taiwan (although formally continuing to claim sovereignty over the over the territory of the PRC and Mongolia), and abandoned the condition that Taipei would only recognize a state if it sever relations with China.[9]“This ‘New Taiwan’ continued to seek diplomatic recognition from the Pacific Islands, but as a state separate from that controlled by the government in Beijing. It would also become interested in acquiring increments of recognition, such as permission for presidential flight stopovers.” [10] However, given that the PRC continues to be intransigent on its ‘One-China’ policy and denying Taiwan’s statehood, the Cross-Strait diplomatic rivalry has maintained many of its pre-1988 connotations despite the ROC’s ‘Taiwanisation’ and ‘Taiwanised’ diplomacy. Over the last two decades, China’s potent economic growth has sharpened the diplomatic confrontation with the other side of the Taiwan Strait, and enabled Beijing to virtually outbid Taiwan on a global scale, including the South Pacific.[11] For example, China’s economic leverage persuaded the Kingdom of Tonga to change its allegiance in 1998 after 26 years of close relations with Taiwan. Moreover, China is reportedly fielding more diplomats in the South Pacific than any other country (although Australia has more diplomatic missions).”[12] However, it would be incorrect to assume that Beijing now has the capacity to outbid Taipei in any case. In fact, the fewer allies Taiwan has the more funds it can allocate on each, and the higher are the expectations and demands of the PRC’s allies. For this reason, China is unlikely to ever be able to ‘buy out’ all of its opponent’s allies. As such, it is not surprising that today the ROC has almost as many ‘friends’ in the South Pacific as it did in the 1980s. Taiwan currently entertains official relations with six of the fourteen island members of the Pacific Islands Forum (FICs) - Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Nauru, Palau, Solomon Islands and Tuvalu. The PRC has the recognition of eight: Cook Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, Fiji, Niue, PNG, Samoa, Tonga and Vanuatu.

Even though the PRC and - to a minor extent - Taiwan, give the PICs international aid for other purposes, the main part of the development assistance they provide is related to their diplomatic rivalry. Lancaster calculates that Beijing’s overall annual foreign aid budget amounts to $1.5-2 billion.[13] Hanson maintains that China donated $100-150 million to its South Pacific partners in 2007, in addition to hundreds of millions of dollars in subsidized loans. [14] According to the OECD, Taiwan’s total aid budget amount to $514 million in 2007. [15] In a recent ‘white paper’, Taiwan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) stated that Taiwan’s ‘official’ overseas development assistance totalled $430 million for 2008, 0.11 per cent of gross national income.[16] Taiwan generally allocates $10–15 million for each ally, which translates to a total $60-90 million annual budget for the South Pacific. Taiwan also provides funds to PICs - such as Fiji - that do not bestow official recognition on it (see below).

While the amount the two dragons are spending in the Pacific Islands Region has continued to escalate, the level of spending remains below what the major Western donors give, as was the case two decades ago.[17] However, the two Asian contenders are important donors for some PICs. For instance, Taipei is the second largest donor to Tuvalu after the European Union, and Beijing is PNG’s second largest donor after Canberra.[18] Moreover, “South Pacific governments often perceive aid from China and Taiwan as more valuable than Western aid as it comes in a form over which they have more control.”[19]

Despite the substantial aid that the two Asian contenders liberally bestow on the South Pacific, winning new allies has proved considerably more difficult than keeping the allegiance of the allies they already have. During Chen Shui-bian’s presidential tenures, Taipei and Beijing repeatedly tried to woo each other’s allies, usually to no avail. Only five out of the fourteen Pacific Island states - Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Nauru, Samoa and Tonga - have changed sides from one dragon to the other over the past three decades. As Atkinson notices, “the main reason for this is the difficulty China and Taiwan face in garnering sufficiently broad political support while maintaining the secrecy necessary to avoid interference from the rival side. In PNG in 1999, Tuvalu in 2004, and Vanuatu in 2006, China or Taiwan were successful in attaining the support of a Pacific Islands country’s leader only to see him ousted in a vote of no confidence due to the broader support of the opposing rival.”[20] However, maintaining the recognition of a ‘PIC friend’ is not an easy task as well. In fact, in order to secure an enduring diplomatic relationship, the two contenders must ‘keep happy’ a relatively large majority of a South Pacific polity. This implies that, unlike the aid from Western countries, the gifts from the dragons (the Taiwanese or Chinese aid packages) are often designed to meet the requirements of the islands’ political elites.

The government buildings and the sport facilities provided by Beijing or Taipei are the most visible sign of the aforementioned policy. For the PRC, this list includes the foreign ministry headquarters in Port Moresby, the Melanesian Spearhead Group headquarters, parliament and foreign ministry buildings for Vanuatu, government buildings for Samoa, and mansions for the president and vice president in Micronesia. Taiwan funded the central government office complex in Tuvalu (notably, the tallest building in the minuscule country). “Although there is no official data available, Taiwan has probably donated around $100 million to Palau since establishing diplomatic ties in 1999, which works out to approximately $5,000 per capita. Of this sum, $3 million dollars has been spent on construction of a conference center, $15 million on airport expansion, and $2 million on the National Museum […]. Taiwan also lent $20 million for the construction of a new capital city, Melekeok, locally referred to as ‘Washington Jr.’ for its architectural resemblance to Capitol Hill.”[21]The buildings erected thanks to Taiwan’s generosity are generally regarded as more valuable to the recipient country as Taipei provides the funds with which to buy both the materials and (local) labour. Beijing typically provides - that is, imports - its own workforce and materials, significantly lowering the benefit to the local economy. As Fergus Hanson puts it, “in the Pacific (and elsewhere) it [China] attaches significant strings to its aid (although publicly it professes to give without any conditions). Use of Chinese contractors, materials and laborers, for example, is generally mandatory, limiting opportunities for local workers and benefits to the local economy.”[22] In addition, it appears that in several cases, the infrastructures built by the Chinese are badly constructed and fail to take local conditions into account. As Graeme Dobell ironically remarks, “Beijing is keen on showpieces that can be locked and left. Large public buildings and sports stadiums are examples of ‘key’ aid: the donor builds the project, hands over the key and leaves after the opening ceremony, with no responsibility for future maintenance or operation of the facility.”[23]

The two sides of the Taiwan Strait hand down other material benefits to the island states’ politicians. For example, the PRC donated a fleet of luxury cars for the use of Vanuatu’s cabinet ministers - notably, almost half of Port Vila’s parliament. Beijing also is a donor to each of Vanuatu’s numerous political parties and involves members of parliament in business deals.[24] Taipei covers Tuvalu’s ministerial travel expenses, and accords funding for Solomon Islands legislators to spend on development projects in their constituencies. Both the PRC and its rival continue the consolidated practice of bringing PIC leaders and other politicians - together with their numerous retinues - on all-expenses-paid visits, with complimentary spending money and gifts included.

The majority of Beijing’s and Taipei’s aid for their South Pacific allies is in the form of

-          direct budgetary grants
-          soft loans
-          and funding for specific projects.

Direct grants are the most attractive type of aid for the PICs’ governments, as they allow the island states to spend the funds as they deem useful. Loans are similarly flexible, and are sometimes forgiven or repeatedly extended. “Moreover, repayments are often made out of government budgets supported by direct grants, and thus not a direct burden on the finances of the country concerned.”[25] The islands’ governments are also given a high degree of control even where funding is labelled as developmental assistance, with the right to both commence and supervise projects. For example, China - which has spectacularly stepped up its aid-giving to the South Pacific (from pledges worth $33 million in 2005 to $206 million in 2008)[26] - funnels the main part of its funding to the Fiji Islands through Suva’s foreign ministry, thus tendering the ministry a direct financial interest in the relationship with the PRC. Taiwan donates a much smaller aid fund (annually, $500,000 circa) through Fiji’s Prime Minister’s office. Taiwan also provides separate funding for education, health, agriculture and fisheries projects directly to the relevant ministries. According to an interview conducted by Australian scholar Joel Atkinson, “this separate system for handling aid from Taiwan came about because of the PRC’s objection to Taiwan’s donations being received directly into the coffers of the state.” [27] As previously mentioned, the two Asian donors also exercise considerably less supervision over their respective aid programmes than Western aid givers. For instance, the Tuvaluan government can “use the money [from Taiwan] where it likes […] no strings attached”[28] on condition it presents a progress report on the destination of the first instalment. This modus operandi can be a source of problems for the ‘dragon donors’ when the policies of the islands’ governments undermine the basis of support in the country as a whole. For example, Taipei’s ambassador had no choice but sending money directly when the Tuvaluan government diverted funds which were earmarked for projects on the external islands to fill in for government revenue shortages.[29]

(Photo courtesy of the Taiwan National Museum of Prehistory)


It is also worth highlighting that - in the hope that this will be conducive to the establishment of relations - both Cross-Strait rivals indulge in the longstanding practice of approaching parliamentary oppositions or presidential candidates. For example, Beijing inked a memorandum of understanding with Solomon Islands legislator Francis Billy Hilly and his National Party providing funding in return for working towards severing relations with Taiwan and recognizing China. Hilly was brought into the Solomon Islands government in 2006, and then expelled even for not reneging on the memorandum.[30] The Middle Kingdom has also established links with opposition politicians in Palau, and invited Palauan legislators to Beijing.[31] To date, neither of these initiatives has been successful for China. However, Taiwan employed this tactic successfully following in the aftermaths of July 2003 presidential elections in Kiribati (see below).

Each Asian rival advertises and stresses out the benefits of having relations with its side of the Taiwan Strait in order to maintain their Pacific allies and win new ones. As mentioned above, Beijing employs its own labour and materials to erect buildings as aid for its PIC partners. China also utilizes its manufacturing resources to provide ‘its’ island states with a multitude of goods ranging from chemical fertilizer[32] to cars.[33] The Middle Kingdom is also an attractive export market for the Pacific Islands and offers its South Pacific allies preferential access. China even invests in PNG’s mining industry,[34] obtaining coveted raw materials and corroborating its partnership with Port Moresby at the same time. The growth of the Chinese economy has enabled an increasing number of mainland Chinese to travel overseas for leisure, and Beijing has granted ‘Approved Destination Status’ (authorizing tourism from China) to its South Pacific allies.

While, for obvious reasons, it is difficult for Taiwan to compete with the mainland as an export market for the island states, Taipei has, however, a remarkable capacity to supply investment capital. Notably, investment was a weighty factor in the establishment of diplomatic ties between Taiwan and Palau,[35] and Taipei is significantly investing in the Solomon Islands.[36] Taiwan has an excellent expertise in agriculture, and continues to carry out agricultural development projects in the South Pacific.[37] In addition, Taiwan is a high-technology powerhouse, and provides the PICs with technology for environmental schemes and initiatives aimed at preventing and alleviating the consequences of the rising sea level.[38] Taiwan’s advanced health system also plays an important role: Taipei regularly dispatches medical équipes and equipment to the Pacific Islands.[39] “During Chen Shui-bian’s presidency, Taipei attempted to fill a gap left by Australia and bring its Pacific Islands allies into Taiwan’s system of temporary foreign labour.”[40] Taiwan often presents itself as a humanitarian power to its allies. For example, In February 2009, ROC Foreign Ministry spokesman Henry Chen hinted that Taiwan could become a safe haven for the whole population of Tuvalu (10,472) in the tragic case the tiny archipelago disappears into the ocean.[41]

China and Taiwan also resort to soft power and ideological appeal. The PRC emphasizes its status as the ‘rising star’ in the constellation of great powers to the Pacific Islands, “and attempts to create a sense of the benefits of China’s friendship and the ‘inevitability’ of diplomatically recognizing China and not Taiwan.”[42] Taiwan, on its part, highlights its democracy and respect for human rights. In some cases, the Taipei’s ‘democracy argument’ seems to have a certain persuasive power. When asked about his country’s alliance with Taiwan, Palau’s House Speaker, Noah Idechong, “says […] Palau is right to stick with its current alliances and not be too quick to embrace China.  He points out that Taiwan and Palau have common values, values that China’s government doesn’t share. […] ‘I feel it would be overwhelming if we join China, that is very heavy handed, in my mind, when dealing with human rights issues, environment, and controlling their people.’ […] Idechong admits that business people here are increasingly asking, ‘Why throw in our lot with the small fish when we could go for the big one?’ Idechong thinks the big fish could sink Palau’s boat.”[43] Last but not least, Taiwan puts emphasis and cultivates the ‘Austronesian link’. The Taiwanese, in other words, stress the scientific evidence that Formosan aboriginal population is culturally and genetically linked to the Pacific Islanders. For instance, Taipei dispatched an aboriginal former legislator to be its representative in Fiji,[44] funds the studies conducted by Palau’s National Museum on the ethnic connection between Taiwan’s indigenous people and Micronesians,[45] and organises the annual International Austronesian Conference in Taiwan.[46]

‘Visit diplomacy’ also has an important role in the China-Taiwan diplomatic competition in the South Pacific. For Taipei, official visits the island states’ capitals serve a double purpose: showing respect to PICs and, more importantly, asserting Taiwan’s sovereignty. During Chen Shui-bian’s two mandates, the Taiwanese government decided to supplement its diplomatic efforts in the region through presidential visits to the PICs. In early 2005, Chen became the first ROC president to pay an official visit to Palau and the Solomons and, by September 2006, Chen had called at each of Taiwan’s Pacific allies. The Chen administration even inaugurated a multilateral diplomacy approach to the region, by organising and attending two Taiwan-Pacific Allies Summits in Palau and the Marshall Islands respectively in September 2006 and September 2007.[47]According to Chen Shui-bian, the summit was meant to be “an evolution in Taiwan’s diplomacy from bilateral links to multilateral comprehensive partnerships.”[48] In late March 2010, ROC President Ma Ying-jeou’s made his first Pacific tour of all Taiwan’s six diplomatic allies.[49] Ma’s voyage had been originally scheduled for October 2009, but “it was postponed […] due to pressures of rescue and relief work in the wake of Typhoon Morakot.”[50] This delay also brought a change in the character of the program. The original agenda prepared by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs included the convening of the Third Taiwan-Pacific Allies Summit in Honiara. However, the Office of the President decided to replace the summit with traditional bilateral state visits. The Ma administration reportedly “renounced the multilateral approach on the grounds that the ‘diplomatic truce’ between the KMT government and Beijing has ‘stabilized’ Taiwan’s ties with the six Pacific allies and because the bilateral approach is ‘more sincere’ for maintaining official relations and deepening cooperation.”[51] Even though Chinese officials had made over twice as many high level visits to the region as Taiwan between 1988 and 1998, Chinese President Hu Jintao has been unable or unwilling to imitate Chen’s and Ma’s diplomatic activism. However, in April 2006, Beijing’s premier Wen Jiabao flew to Fiji, becoming the first Chinese premier to visit the South Pacific. There, he combined bilateralism and multilateralism through meeting separately and jointly with leaders from all of China’s allies during the first China-Pacific Island Countries Economic Development and Cooperation Forum. “China made several significant pledges to its allies at the conference. In addition to the main agreement, each participating country struck bilateral deals with China, supposedly worth over $24 million in the case of Fiji.”[52] In March 2007, Chinese vice premier Li Keqiang visited Port Moresby and Port Vila, and paid an official visit to Papua Guinea again in 2009.[53]

The Cross-Strait rivalry is a problem the South Pacific regional organizations have been facing since Beijing became a dialogue partner of the South Pacific Forum (later Pacific Islands Forum) in 1989.[54] In 1992, the forum also accepted Taiwan as a dialogue partner. Despite vocal Chinese protests, the ROC attended the 1993 forum in Nauru, a diplomatic ally of Taiwan. China was gravely disturbed by the prospect of Taiwan’s participation in Australia the following year. Beijing then tried to limit Taiwan’s presence to South Pacific Forum meetings held in countries recognizing Taipei. Australian Prime Minister Paul Keating did not kow-tow, and successfully proposed a compromise solution where the South Pacific Forum post-forum dialogue with Taiwan was hosted at a separate venue.[55] This solution proved resilient, and it has been adopted since then. In 2003, when Canberra and Wellington declined an offer of membership to the South Pacific Tourism Organization (SPTO), the organization made the same offer to Taipei and Beijing.[56] China then became the first extra-regional member of the SPTO in April 2004.[57] In return, Beijing agreed to authorize Chinese tourists to vacation in the island states which bestow recognition on the Middle Kingdom, and to fund the SPTO.[58] According to Trevor Olovae, Solomon Islands’ Tourism Minister, “Taiwan [also] promised to financially support the SPTO in a significant way if it becomes a member.”[59] However, China threatened to withdraw in case of Taiwan’s admission in the organization. The decision of the SPTO to exclude Taiwan was then ‘consolidated’ when China raised its contribution to $100,000 for five years. In 2006, the most important regional organization of the South Pacific, the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF), was forced to steer a course through a particularly insidious Cross-Strait storm.[60] In preparation for the above mentioned ‘China-Pacific Island Countries Economic Development and Cooperation Forum Ministerial Conference’, China originally approached the PIF to co-sponsor the event. However, China’s insistence that only the states recognizing it would sign the conference declaration - and Taiwan’s protests - caused the PIF to withdraw.[61] Following this, the PICs siding with Taiwan announced that they were not to attend the conference. In the end, the PIF’s role was limited to “supporting and helping members to take part.”[62]

In 2008, the election of Taiwanese president Ma Ying-jeou, a leader openly committed to start a fresh dialogue with China and make political ouvertures to Beijing in return for economic benefits and diplomatic détente, deeply changed the dynamics of the Sino-Taiwanese diplomatic rivalry in the South Pacific. Ma’s government claims it has successfully negotiated a ‘diplomatic truce’ with Beijing and, although China has not publicly acknowledged the truce, “a tacit agreement appears to be in effect.” [63] This informal truce appears to have temporarily anesthetized the rivalry, given that at the moment neither side is actively operating to change the diplomatic balance. This is reflected by some interesting policy shifts on both sides of the straits. “Taiwan released an aid white paper in 2009 that set out a much more responsible approach to aid giving, essentially rejecting the old chequebook diplomacy for which both China and Taiwan got plenty of ‘bad publicity’. For its part, Beijing has taken the unprecedented step of discouraging countries loyal to Taiwan from switching allegiance to China in an effort to keep the improving bilateral relationship on track.”[64] However, the truce does not imply that the contest with Taiwan is no longer central to China’s strategy in the South Pacific and the other regions where Taiwan retains diplomatic allies. Beijing is likely to withdraw its tacit cooperation with the truce if it does not receive what it considers sufficient concessions to its unification policy. “What concessions will satisfy Beijing - and whether this or future Taiwan governments will be prepared to make them - is the subject of intense debate, and the long-term prospects of the diplomatic truce are uncertain.”[65] If the truce breaks down, it is possible that the resulting uncertainty will see the Cross-Strait diplomatic rivalry return to the Pacific Islands Region with sudden rapidity. There are also questions surrounding what the truce will mean for the region while it endures. It is unlikely that the two rivals will drastically reduce their aid commitments to the PICs. Presumably, neither contender will want to unnecessarily neglect ties with its allies while the termination of the truce remains a concrete possibility. Despite the truce, Beijing has so far continued to promise relatively substantial aid packages to the Pacific. This suggests that “China is assuming something of a holding pattern: Waiting to see whether the truce with Taiwan holds and if it does not, making sure it is ready to jump back into the diplomatic tussle for allies.”[66] Even if the truce were to become durably consolidated, there are reasons to assume that Beijing would maintain its aid commitment to the region, albeit it may decide to donate less liberally. China’s view and perception of its place in the world arena, and its capacity to act accordingly, have changed: while the South Pacific might be geopolitically marginal, as a state with global vision and ambitions, the PRC needs to be a protagonist in every regional theater. Actually, both contenders have a set of interests in the Pacific Islands that are separate from their rivalry. For this reason, Beijing and Taipei may prove reluctant to relinquish the versatile influence they have cultivated with the Pacific Islands. For example, In China’s case, the links with the island states provide Beijing with a measure of international support on a range of issues such as its control over Tibet and Japan’s bid for a permanent UN Security Council seat.[67] For Taiwan, its involvement in the region is also a means to advertise itself as a humanitarian power. It is also true that in the South Pacific, there are substantial resources of interest to both China and Taiwan (for instance, many island states have large fishing zones). In the light of these factors, it is foreseeable that the two dragons will continue to be important actors in the Southern Seas well into the next decade, regardless of the resilience of the diplomatic truce.

The Pacific Island Countries: Rivalry Impacted or Rivalry Co-creators?

“That sovereignty has economic consequences can scarcely be debated.”[68] States have taken it away from other states in order to seize control of their wealth. Equally, subject peoples have fought to recover their sovereignty and the economic benefits it entails. States, indeed, exercise sovereignty to pursue their national interests and economic viability. In some instances, states ‘mismanage’ their sovereignty by indulging in activities that are clearly improper or even illegal. For example, it would be difficult to argue that the sale of flags of convenience for shipping, the provision of shady offshore banking facilities and of lawsuit-proof tax havens do not often cross into the realm of the illicit.Diplomatic recognition has always been at the most sensitive end of the spectrum of state responsibility. It should be. It is the constitutive mechanism that has established the state system and maintains it. The state system has been a self-authenticating arrangement since being validated in 1648 by the Peace of Westphalia by virtue of diplomatic recognition.” [69] Even today, states are the only subjects that have the prerogative of recognising the existence of a state are the other states. The community of states is an exclusive club in which admission is awarded only by the countries which already enjoy the membership. Ordinarily, this process has been too laden with implications and dependent on too many actors to be the object of a do ut des or to be reduced to an auction. Even during the Cold War era, “the trade was in political or strategic alignment rather than in recognition.”[70] States traded for international aid and other forms of assistance to accord their loyalty and support to one side or the other. Even considering the role of ideological competition in hastening the tempo of decolonization during the ‘bi-polar decades’ does not substantially refute this interpretation. Indeed, the superpowers did not need to purchase recognition; they had it already. What they sought was to win more ideological satellites. Clearly, the territories pursuing independence needed recognition to attain statehood, but their status and the Cold War dynamics prevented them from bargaining for it. While, the historical record suggests that bargaining for state recognition is a sporadic and impervious practice, the Sino-Taiwanese rivalry for diplomatic recognition, especially in the South Pacific arena, can be seen largely in these terms. It is, however, debatable whether this recognition-race is spurred in the first instance by the PICs trying to auction diplomatic allegiance or by the two dragons to secure it. For example, James Brooke of the New York Times News Service supported the former interpretation when, in 2004, he claimed that the ‘small islands often offer recognition to the ‘highest bidder’ in playing Beijing off against Taipei.[71] On the contrary, the Economist in the same year maintained that the Cross-Strait competition between in the Caribbean region was to be seen in terms of the ‘two Chinas’ actively vying to purchase diplomatic relations as a commodity. While both sides of the Taiwan Strait reject the allegation that they are recognition-traders, before the establishment of the ‘diplomatic truce’, Taipei has been often finger-pointed as the proactive bidder on the grounds of its ‘complicated’ relationship with the international community. Nevertheless, even the Chinese ‘red dragon’ is regarded as playing an active part since it gains by precluding the diplomatic space Taiwan strives for. This, ca va sans dire, can involve ‘outbidding’ Taiwan to win the allegiance of a aid-needy country. Moreover, in these years, other powers - even though not engaged in any battle for recognition - have resorted to the practice of buying PIC votes in international fora. In fact, sovereignty bestows not only the prerogative of recognizing other states, but also the right to membership and vote in international organizations, the United Nations (UN) in primis. This has provided the small and poor PICs with a durable revenue-earning scheme: converting diplomatic recognition and UN membership into cash.

For example, in 2010 Nauru became the fourth country to recognize Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent states. Soon after that, the Russian Federation donated nine million American dollars to upgrade the island’s port.  Georgia quickly found a way to strike back: via Tuvalu. On 11 September 2010, it was reported that the Tbilisi was “providing financial aid to the permanent mission of Tuvalu to the United Nations.” Later it was confirmed that Georgia had paid for a medical shipment to Tuvalu worth “about US$ 12,000,”[72] (roughly, one dollar for each Tuvaluan). Notably, Tuvalu was one of fifty countries (along, incidentally, with the Marshall Islands and Micronesia) that voted in favor of the Georgian-sponsored United Nations General Assembly resolution reaffirming the right of return of all refugees to Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Not surprisingly, Nauru (together with the Solomon Islands) was among the seventeen nations voting against.[73] Apparently, Washington has been playing this game too, having had Nauru bulk up the ‘no’ vote on the UN’s recurring resolutions on ‘Peaceful settlement of the question of Palestine’ in which the United States tends to look visibly lonely. In 2009, 164 countries voted in favor of the latest such resolution; of the seven countries who voted against, four, alongside the United States, Israel and Australia, were PICs.[74] Even Japan has long been accused of buying South Pacific votes in the International Whaling Commission (IWC) “by paying for the participation costs of a small school of sovereign minnows to enable Tokyo to put commercial whaling back on the IWC menu.”[75] At the 2005 IWC meeting in Korea, this shoal of minnows included five PICs - Kiribati, Nauru, Palau, the Solomon Islands and Tuvalu. At one time or another, these five countries voted against Canberra’s and Wellington’s initiatives to prevent a return to commercial whaling or using ‘scientific’ whaling to supply commercial markets. This occurred despite promises prior to the meeting from the PICs that they would support Australia’s position.[76]

However, “China and Taiwan are the biggest players in this game.”[77] They have been jockeying for position in the region with their willingness to work with any island state government - without regard to its democratic and transparency credentials - and to profuse aid and grand gifts to such friends. As previously mentioned, both Taiwan and China have erected needlessly monumental buildings for use by local governments. In addition, government officials from the PICs have (and are) being treated generously and “their incomes are boosted by countless lucrative trips to Taipei and Beijing, helping to support what is often described as a ‘per-diem mentality’.”[78] For instance, Kessai Note, President of the Republic of Marshall Islands (RMI), arrived in Taipei in June 2007 for a five-day visit (his sixth in five years), meeting the then President Chen Shui-bian for a few hours, after which “the rest of his trip was private.”[79] At the end of 2010, the head of the Fiji Islands’ military government, Commodore Frank Bainimarama, reportedly visited China twice in less than a month.[80]

In the light of the cases presented above, it could thus be easy to contend that the Islands have a substantially passive role in the market for recognition created by the Sino-Taiwanese rivalry. However, even though - in the words of University of Hawai’i’s Tarcisius Tara Kabutaulaka - “the Islands are seldom trend-setters, and often trend-followers and trend-impacted,” it would be too simplistic to consider the islands just as secondary and indolent actors willing to ‘go with anybody’ as long as it is lucrative. Equally, it would be incorrect to portray the PICs merely as the cunning and Machiavellian auctioneers of their own diplomatic recognition and international vote. A more realistic way to look at the role played by the governments of the Islands is to regard them as co-creators of the China-Taiwan diplomatic rivalry in the south Pacific.[81]

(Photo: C.P.)


The Pacific Islands Region has an extraordinary concentration of microstates.[82] Only Fiji and Papua New Guinea (PNG) amongst the region’s fourteen states and self-governing countries are not microstates.[83] “The small populations and dispersed geography of most countries impose diseconomies on these states in seeking to meet the normal claims of the citizens for goods and services. If these diseconomies are not absorbed by the state, medical services, education, sanitation and the like could not be provided at the levels expected elsewhere.”[84] This makes the PICs heavily dependent on international aid. Actually, smallness, remoteness, vulnerability and dependency on aid are factors that pervade almost all aspects of the regional affairs. Smallness is also a political fact of life for most countries of the region: all their external relationships will be with states that are larger, more powerful and better resourced than they.[85] The political elites of the PICs are acutely aware of this situation, knowing that the ability to extract aid from the international system is vital for the Islands’ capacity to provide (at least basically) for their citizens and meet their sovereign obligations. Factually, as journalist Mara Kay Magistad highlighted in a 2010 interview to Palau’s President (and a former ambassador to Taiwan) Johnson Toribiong, the aid from one of the two Asian contenders can often make the difference for a PIC. In the case of Palau, the not-further-specified “lot of money”[86] that Taipei has donated to its Micronesian ally over a decade, was “enough to build roads, bridges, a museum, solar power facilities, an incinerator, and help with improving agricultural production.”[87] For this reason, in the case of the Sino-Taiwanese diplomatic rivalry, the islands had to develop an ability to play one dragon off the other, and refine their understanding of the ‘rivalry aid market’. In other words, the PICs had to become skilled - and quite cynical - ‘rivalry managers’. As Senator Tony de Brum of the RMI, one of the politicians who forged cooperation with Taiwan and effectively withdrew his country from the pro-China camp, explained in 2008: “In the past, we abandoned Taiwan and went with China and until 1998 we stayed with it. But then we felt under financial pressure, as we were going through some tough negotiations with the U.S. regarding the Compact. And we felt that we couldn’t beg the U.S. for money while negotiating about defense and finances with it. China’s aid to Marshall Islands was at that time negligible. That is when we decided to go back to Taiwan, which was offering substantial financial assistance.”[88]

The Sino-Taiwanese diplomatic rivalry in South Pacific is, in reality, a triangular (China, Taiwan and the islands states) process characterized by informational advantages and feedback dynamics. In this process, the two Asian powers seek to keep an informational advantage vis-à-vis their rival and the island states. On the one hand, Taiwan and China try to keep what they are paying - or intend to pay - for an island state’s allegiance secret from each other in order to make it more difficult for the rival to make an informed counteroffer. On the other hand, both dragons attempt to maintain an informational advantage when negotiating with a PIC.  In other words, Taipei and Beijing try to keep the cost of a relationship down by not letting a seller of diplomatic recognition know that they might be prepared to pay more for the relationship. If a country selling its diplomatic recognition has little information about how much its Asian interlocutor would be willing to pay for maintaining/establishing diplomatic relations, presumably it will not be too demanding.[89] On their part, the PICs maneuver to raise the ‘market price’ of their diplomatic recognition or vote in international bodies. In particular, the islands try to erode the Asian interlocutor’s informational advantage by refining their understanding of their own ‘market value’ and by leaking to one contender hints about the price that the other contender is ready to pay. Actually, one of the main reasons for the fact that only five PICs (Samoa, Tonga, Kiribati, Marshall Islands and Nauru) have switched recognition from one rival to the other in the past three decades can be identified in the difficulty the two Asian players face not only in securing sufficiently wide political support among local politicians, but also in maintaining the secrecy necessary to avoid interference from the other contender.[90]

As in other market contexts, in the Pacific Islands’ diplomatic recognition market miscalculations on the value of a certain ‘company’ as well as reputational assets influence the sales and acquisitions process. For instance, China and Taiwan rejected approaches by the islands when they believed requests exceeded the ‘market value’ of a PIC. As for reputational assets, in 2005 “Taiwan initially resisted approaches from Nauru […] before agreeing to re-establish relations, as it had lost confidence in Nauru as an ally.”[91]During the 2000-2008 period - when the diplomatic competition between Beijing and Taipei was at its acme in the South Pacific - some island countries even tried to maximize the rivalry’s dividends by openly and publicly playing on two tables in order to prod the two Asian contenders into a ‘bidding race’. For example, when in October 2000 Taipei refused the Solomon Islands government’s demand for U$40 million in assistance, Honiara’s minister of foreign affairs, who was travelling to Taiwan to attend the inauguration of his country’s new embassy, had a stop-over in Hong Kong, where he was entertained by Chinese officials. Soon after, the then Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare told the media: “We have exhausted all discussions with Taiwan so we have decided to go elsewhere.”[92] However, the amount asked by Honiara was too much for Beijing, and, a few days later, the Solomon Islands government backpedalled. Nevertheless, Taipei thought better to stabilize its relations with the Solomons by according a U$25 million loan to Sogavare’s government.[93] At the end of 2004, when the bidding war for Vanuatu’s diplomatic allegiance between China and Taiwan was at its most heated stage (and Vohor’s government’s demise was nigh), Taiwanese Premier Yu Shyi-kun declared that: “the government is likely to pledge aid while establishing diplomatic relations with a specific country, but has never pledged an extremely large special offer to a single diplomatic ally.”[94] Taiwan’s Deputy Foreign Minister Kau was even more specific: “we are looking at a combined package including aid and private sector investment of US$40 million a year to Vanuatu and have offered to double the per capita income of everyone in three provinces of the government’s choice in four or five years.”[95]

On a few occasions, some PICs also tried to advance and adopt a ‘Two-Chinas’ principle for the relations between them and the two dragons. Clearly, the rationale of the stance of those governments was the belief that ‘flying two flags’ would enable their country to benefit from the aid provided by both sides of the Taiwan Strait. For instance, PNG officials attempted to cultivate relations with both China and Taiwan ahead of independence[96] More recently, in 2003, when Kiribati decided to switch allegiance to Taiwan after the twenty-three years of good relations with China, the government of Anote Tong said that Kiribati “as a sovereign nation it is not obliged to commit to a ‘One-China’ policy and is free to establish diplomatic relations with whomever it chooses.”[97] Kiribati’s Foreign Ministry stated that, while the country was giving new recognition to Taiwan, it was “not breaking off ties with mainland China and it hopes relations with Beijing will continue to prosper.”[98] Notably, according to Chinese diplomats, only a week before ‘defecting’ to Taipei, President Tong had pledged his commitment to the ‘One-China’ policy.[99] Equally, in 2004 Serge Vohor appeared to believe he could continue to receive assistance from China after establishing relations with Taiwan. From the beginning he made it clear that he did not want Beijing to withdraw from Vanuatu, even writing a letter to China’s premier Wen Jiabao explaining that Vanuatu needed Taiwan as a development partner.[100] In a televised address he also argued that Taiwan and China could complement each other in helping Vanuatu. Vohor’s spokesman was even more explicit, telling the media: “we want to set a new policy in the world, we want to support one-China policy, we want to support one Taiwan policy”.[101] It is not surprising that, given Beijing’s intransigence on the ‘One-China’ principle, such positions were untenable, and only caused the severing of relations between Beijing and Tarawa in the case of Kiribati, and the ousting of Serge Vohor in Vanuatu. In fact, the creative diplomacy of Tong and Vohor was little more than a political statement and an exercise in futility. Nonetheless, both cases reveal that the PICs have the will (if not the capability) to play a pro-active and creative part in the Sino-Taiwanese Pacific rivalry. Actually, a more Machiavellian version of the ‘Two-Chinas’ diplomatic game has been played quite effectively by the Fiji Islands. Suva has opted for “a strategy of officially recognizing Beijing, yet offering enough benefits to Taipei to justify continued financial assistance - and to keep China focused on meeting Fiji’s demands.”[102] Notably, Fiji has been able to successfully implement this policy on account of its regional importance and through not letting the clash of dragons factionalize its domestic politics.

The Cross-Strait diplomatic truce has, to a large extent, deprived the PICs of the space for playing the allegiance-selling game or ‘flying two flags’, but it has also provided the PICs with a great opportunity. The Pacific Island nations can now seize the occasion for acting to alleviate the vicious cycle of dependency (as system and mindset) by inaugurating a more open process of conducting diplomatic relations with the two Asian powers. Of course, such a ‘new paradigm’ would not radically solve the ‘sovereignty for sale’ issue, but it would certainly be a big step in the right direction. Diminishing the influence of aid money in encouraging purely opportunistic choices is crucial in this process. “Basing diplomatic relations only on the fees offered by a given country has profoundly negative effects on the island nations. The situation tends to deepen national stagnation, and abets political cynicism.”[103] The islands states should direct the two dragons to allocate more of their Pacific aid to foster sustainable development projects rather than wasting large sums on showpiece structures like government buildings and disproportionately large sport facilities. At the same time, the PICs’ governments should begin to put to a better use the aid they receive from the two dragons. Often, Asian money primarily supports the political elites, who profit directly (through business deals, contracts and official trips) and indirectly. It is time to benefit the people. It is also time to change the ‘flip-flop-state’ image which penalizes and ridicules the island countries. The benefits of a more mature and responsible system of managing relations with Beijing and Taipei can appear remote and less rewarding than opportunistic behaviour, but in the long term it would advantage all the island countries, especially the weak and vulnerable, and the region as a whole.[104] Sovereignty has always been a double-edged sword - it confers rights and freedom but it also imposes responsibilities. Indeed, the exercise of sovereign prerogatives requires responsibility and vision. Without leaders’ responsibility and vision, the peoples of the South Pacific would find themselves in a situation “often as restraining as when Polynesian, Melanesian, and Micronesian nations were outright colonies of Western and Asian powers.”[105]


Blame the dragon, but hug the panda: Australia and the Cross-Strait diplomatic rivalry in the South Pacific

In 1994, a speech delivered by the then Australian Minister for Pacific Island Affairs, Gordon Bilney, marked the beginning of Australia’s policy of asking a greater return - namely, better governance and higher accountability - from the PICs on which it bestows international aid.[106] This line was strengthened after the inauguration of John Howard’s conservative government in 1996, and appears to inform the Pacific-politik of Canberra’s current Labour government.  This policy has two drivers. The first is the idea that Australian aid recipients in the South Pacific should progressively lower their dependence on their Antipodean big brother, thus lessening the burden on the Australian taxpayer. The second driver is Australia’s growing perception that instability in the Islands represents an immediate threat to Australian interests. After Canberra’s 1999 armed involvement in East Timor, Australia endowed itself with an interventionist doctrine aimed protecting Australian security interests through actively preventing and arresting the failure of PICs: the ‘Howard Doctrine’. The core of this doctrine is that “Australia would more readily intervene militarily in its own region in accordance with its own interests.”[107]

While Australia was developing and pursuing its interventionist and ‘good governance’ agenda for the South Pacific, the region wad also turning into a key arena in an increasingly intense Sino-Taiwanese diplomatic rivalry. The resulting higher degree of political instability in some of the PICs caused Canberra to consider the rivalry as factor challenging Australian interests. As a consequence, the Cross-Strait rivalry became an increasingly significant variable of Australia’s South Pacific equation, and the region came to be a progressively important area of antagonism in Australia’s relations with Taipei and Beijing.

While Australia continues to lead in the South Pacific, Canberra’s ability to shape outcomes in the region is limited by the geopolitical interest of extra-regional powers. In fact, because of the number as well as the geopolitical weight of the external actors, Australia has no real chance of denying a role to external influence. This limitation is has a severe impact on Australia’ primary objective of establishing greater accountability and transparency in aid management in the Islands. Due to the sovereign status of the PICs, to further its governance agenda Australia has to seek the collaboration of the local political elites (‘carrot’ strategy) or resort to the threat of putting its aid on hold in order to achieve policy compliance by the recipient governments (‘stick’ strategy). The effectiveness of the employment of the stick and/or carrot strategies is considerably reduced by the availability of other actors’ no- or a-few- strings attached funds as a financial alternative for South Pacific politicians. In particular, “China and Taiwan’s diplomatic and financial practices compound(ed) the governance issues that Australia is attempting to address.”[108] For this reason, the ‘cash-battle’ between Taiwan and China has brought the two dragons into conflict with Australia. Consequently, Australia had been publicly and privately warning China and Taiwan about the dangers of ‘chequebook diplomacy’ unhinging Island governments and promoting corruption among political elites.[109] For example, a 2006 Australian senate report said diplomatic rivalries could harm stability and economic development in the South Pacific. It described the Sino-Formosan competition as a “Pacific cold war”, with both sides using “chequebook diplomacy.”[110]

While Beijing’s no-strings-attached and ‘value free’ aid policy clearly obtrude Australian ‘grand Pacific vision’ as much as (if not more than) Taipei’s past ‘dollar diplomacy, the importance of China to Australia’s wider interests often results in South Pacific issues being downplayed, to an extent, in the interest of sustaining the broader Sino-Australian relationship. In fact, although Australia’s relationship with Taiwan is very significant, Taiwan’s lesser importance to Canberra’s core interests means South Pacific policy irritants more readily take precedence in Taiwanese-Australian ties.[111] On the contrary, the matrix or hierarchy of Australia’s international interests means that Canberra would never risk its broad relationship with China over differences in the South Pacific.[112] Consequently, the Australian interaction with China in the region has elements of contest, but it is a muted, carefully limited competition in which Canberra is most unlikely to allow South Pacific concerns to jeopardise its larger interests in relations with Beijing.

Actually, while Australia’s interests demand that Canberra adopt an indulgent ‘panda hugger’ attitude toward China, until recently Australia has behaved as a ‘dragon slayer’ toward Taiwan. For example, the sustained public Australian criticism of Taiwan following the above mentioned 2006 post-election civil unrest in the Solomon Islands - a country that has longstanding ties with Taipei and a close association with Australia - caused serious harm on Taiwan’s reputation in Australia. The incident also contributed to the then Taiwanese administration’s perception of “Australia as being increasingly pro-China.”[113] Such a perception was reinforced by Australian media’s singling-out of Taiwan as a Pacific troublemaker. For example, in October 2006 the Sydney Morning Herald accused Taiwan of funding Solomon Islands’ attorney-general Julian Moti’s - whose extradition was demanded by Canberra on child sex tourism charges - escape from Papua New Guinea (despite it being on a Port Moresby’s military plane). On that occasion, the newspaper argued, “While a lot of Australians see Taiwan as a brightening torch of democracy in Greater China, in our own neighbourhood it risks appearing more like a rogue nation.”[114] It is reasonably inferable that Australian media organizations would have not made such attacks on Taiwan “if not for the lead and encouragement provided by Canberra.”[115]

The Australian inclination to make Taiwan a scapegoat might have been an epiphenomenon of Australia’s reluctance to acknowledge the ambitious nature of its agenda vis-à-vis the political, economic and social conditions of the PICs. Actually, as Joel Atkinson piercingly points out, “it is debatable to what extent China and Taiwan weaken Australia’s reform agenda simply through providing South Pacific governments with funds to misuse. Presumably, if Australia’s efforts were effective, the administration of aid from China and Taiwan would improve accordingly.”[116] Officially, Australia does not encourage the PICs recognising Taiwan to sever relations with Taipei and switch to Beijing. However, in the past, when the government (or a group within a government) in an island country that gives allegiance to China has sought to shift to Taiwan, Australia decided to intervene in favour of the Middle Kingdom. Two telling examples of Canberra’s ‘partiality’ are Australia’s political intervention in Papua New Guinea in 1998 and in Kiribati in 2003. Australian lobbying with Papua New Guinea led to the resignation of that country’s Prime Minister Bill Skate and the denouement of his bid to establish relations with Taipei.[117] As for Kiribati, in what Atkinson calls “a largely unpublicised and lower-level intercession,”[118] the Australian High Commissioner attempted, to no avail, to induce Kiribati’s President Anote Tong to give up his resolve to ‘defect’ to Taiwan.[119] Even though Canberra’s initiatives in PNG and Kiribati were presumably inspired by a concern for regional governance standards and political stability, and not for Taiwan per se, nonetheless in the PNG episode Australia’s action prevented Taiwan from achieving greater influence in the South Pacific. According to confidential interviews conducted by Joel Atkinson in 2006, “as Australia has not had a noticeable detrimental impact on China’s policy, Taiwanese policy-makers have come to believe that Australia is actively cooperating with China in its efforts to exclude Taiwan from the region.”[120]

This atmosphere of mutual distrust between Taiwan and Australia was reflected and further poisoned by the conflict that developed in 2004 over the then Ni-Vanuatu Prime Minister Serge Vohor’s intention to shift allegiance to Taiwan. Already entangled in a tussle with Canberra over ‘good governance’, Vohor signed an agreement giving diplomatic recognition to Taiwan, believing that he could subsequently persuade his ministers and the parliament of the benefits in combining Taiwanese and Chinese aid.[121]Beijing’s threat to ‘freeze’ its aid to Vanuatu, determined bidding competition with Taipei, and intelligent exploitation of the divisions within the ruling coalition - together with several faux pas by Vohor - ultimately led to the Prime Minister’s ousting.[122] Because Australia’s interests in having Vohor dismissed was directly opposed to Taiwan’s interests in having him in office, the Antipodean power played a non-secondary role in the sequence of events that brought to the end Taiwan’s hopes of establishing diplomatic relations with Vanuatu. While it is unclear whether Canberra or Beijing played the greater role in Vohor’s defeat, it is certainly clear that China and Australia’s combined pressure made his removal inevitable.[123] Moreover, as the events below show, in the ‘Vanuatu crisis’ Australia openly took sides with China and domestically and internationally embarrassed the Taiwanese administration, thus embittering Taipei’s resent toward Australia. Equally, Taiwan’s reputation in Australia was further tarnished. This prejudice then contributed to Australian perceptions that “Taiwan both manipulated the April 2006 Solomon Islands election and caused the subsequent rioting.”[124]

At the eve of the fatal no-confidence vote against Vohor, two Australian officials arrived in Vanuatu for ‘consultations’ with a large number of politicians and personalities. Vohor declined to see the Australian envoys, but in a media conference the two officials uttered Canberra’s threat to cut the annual A$31 million (US$24.5 million) aid program unless Port Vila returned to governance reform. They also offered the more-aid-carrot if Vanuatu complied.[125] At the same time, “increasingly concerned about its governance agenda in Vanuatu, Australia” had “privately urged China not to engage in bidding for influence, but was ignored.”[126] On the contrary,  the Australians made their clash of  interests with Taiwan public when a reporter asked Rick Wells, one of the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) envoys,  if “ the current situation involving Vanuatu moving away from the One China Policy and supporting Taiwan, [would be] a concern for your government . . . given that you are pro-One China?” Wells replied:

Yes it would. We have stated very clearly to the Government of Vanuatu and to other South Pacific countries that we think that the best course of action they can follow in this respect is to pursue a One China Policy. We regard ‘bidding war’ between China and Taiwan as destabilizing and ultimately bad for any country in question.[127]

Such a pro-China utterance elicited a piqued response from Taipei, where the statement was interpreted as evidence that Australia was yielding to Chinese pressure. A spokesman quoted Taiwanese Minister of Foreign Affairs Mark Chen as declaring:

We would like to appeal to the Australian government not to be influenced by China  and interfere in Vanuatu’s domestic affairs at this time, especially as Prime Minister Serge Vohor is encountering difficulties within the Vanuatuan Cabinet . . . it is hard for one not to believe that there is no association between the move made by Australia and influence from China.[128]

Taiwan’s foreign minister had earlier met the Australian Commerce and Industry Office (ACIO) head Frances Adamson, Australia’s de facto Ambassador in Taipei, to convey ‘Taiwan’s stern stand’ that Canberra should not ‘meddle’ in ties between Taiwan and Vanuatu.[129] After that, a spokesman for the then Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer threw some water on the fire by denying China had any influence on comments regarding Vanuatu.[130]

After the 2006 nadir in the Formosan-Australian relations in the South Pacific, the issuing of Taiwan’s white paper on international aid and the achievement of the ‘diplomatic truce’ between Taipei and the Mainland represents a turning point in the relationship between Australia and Taiwan. Entitled New Approaches to Foreign Aid, the white paper states: “President Ma Ying-jeou has called on the Government to adhere to appropriate motives, due diligence, and effective practices when offering assistance.”[131] The new guidelines for delivering aid will be the Paris Declaration,[132] “which promises a far more transparent and results-oriented approach”.[133] Secondly, since assuming office in 2008, President Ma has taken a conciliatory approach to China, which has, for its part, largely embraced this new opportunity. The resulting tacit agreement to suspend (to a great extent) the Cross-Strait diplomatic hostilities represents, in the words of analyst Fergus Hanson, a badly-needed “relief for Canberra aid and governance headache”[134]in the South Pacific. Not surprisingly, the end of Taipei’s ‘chequebook diplomacy’ battle with Beijing for island partners and its new focus on improving aid programs in the Pacific have been well-received in Canberra. Indeed, the release of the white paper and the political fruits of Taiwan’s appeasing Cross-Strait policy have greatly contributed to improve Australia’s perception of Taiwan. Canberra is now increasingly looking at Taipei not as a ‘troublemaker’, but as a ‘responsible stakeholder’ in the South Pacific, a stakeholder with whom there are possibilities for cooperation in the region. An invitation in this sense has come from President Ma who, on his March 2010 tour of Taipei’s diplomatic allies in the Pacific, after noting that Beijing had sent eight senior officials of ministerial rank to Taiwan since his inauguration, declared: “So one possibility for Australia is to send ministers to Taiwan.”[135]

Taiwan’s new course “also throws down a challenge to China. If Taiwan improves the transparency and effectiveness of its aid program and ends the competition, will China follow suit?”[136] Beijing has signed on to a localized version of the Paris Declaration - the Kavieng Declaration in Papua New Guinea[137] - but, to date, there are no clear signs that the Middle Kingdom is obliging. China is primarily interested in keeping and strengthening the diplomatic allegiance of its allies in the South Pacific and securing access to the natural resources that the oceanic region has to offer. By contrast, Australia’s aims in the Islands are more complex. Australia’s multiple aims have and are at odds with the simple calculus often used by Beijing.[138] The way China talks to the Islands is a clear contrast to Australia’s language. Canberra’s emphasis on good governance, economic reform and anti-corruption policies has no counterpart when it comes to Beijing. Apart from the issue of Taiwan, China runs a value-free foreign policy. Where only the ‘One-China’ condition apply to China’s offer of help,[139] Australia arrives carrying a complex list of demands in its dealings with the Islands, asking for action on everything from patterns of healthcare to regional integration. Consequently, there is competition but no overt ideological struggle between Australia and China, because only Canberra is furthering a value system. Beijing is well aware that Australia’s stated aim in the Pacific Islands Region is good governance, [140] but it knows only too well that the kangaroo - which is torn between trade and security - cannot afford to be in bad terms with the dragon, but needs to keep hugging the panda, even when the hug is awkward and uncomfortable. Australian global interests will always constrain Australian actions in the Islands. For this reason, Australia must seek compromise in its Pacific relationship with China.[141] Consistently, Canberra has acknowledged China’s power and rights in the region,[142] and adopted a stance of pretending that it can always concentrate on mutual interests with Beijing, not areas of difference.[143] Thanks to its ‘realist’ aid policy and diplomacy, China is spectacularly penetrating in the Pacific Islands. Australian acquiescence will be a regional measure of what sort of great power China will become.[144]


Because of their diplomatic rivalry, the PRC and Taiwan have emerged as ‘first line actors’ in the Pacific Islands Region. The importance of their role originates from the substantial flows of international aid they direct toward their respective Pacific Islands ‘allies’, and the strategies they adopt to maintain and win the diplomatic recognition of the island states. China-Taiwan rivalry in the South Pacific has, in many cases, exacerbated corruption and instability in the region. The gifts from the dragons have also aggravated the PICs’ dependency syndrome. Not surprisingly, those pursuing reform in the islands states, have seen the Sino-Taiwanese war of enticements as an impediment to domestic and regional political stability, social development, and self-reliance. In particular, the rivalry has been undermining Australia’s conditional aid policy directed at elevating governance standards in the region. It is indubitable that these accusations are grounded in reality. However, it is debatable whether the South Pacific would be a considerably more stable or less corrupt region without the involvement from Beijing and Taipei. It might be even argued that the Cross-Strait competition has benefited - and benefits - the PICs. For example, it has helped the island states through providing a few-string attached alternative to Western aid. When the uncertainties over the damages caused by the two Asian powers’ rivalry are juxtaposed to the benefits - such as improvements to infrastructure, agriculture, education and health services - whether the Sino-Taiwanese diplomatic antagonism has been on the whole a positive or negative force in the South Pacific remains controversial. On the contrary, it would be difficult to question that the diplomatic truce between Beijing and Taipei delivers a great opportunity to the island states, Taiwan, China, and Australia. The island countries - which are significant actors rather than “the static facets of a geopolitical ‘chessboard,’”[145] - are presented with the opportunity to stop bartering myopically their political and economic assets to achieve ephemeral benefits and privileges for the political elites, and put the aid from the dragons to a better use. Taiwan can ‘seize the moment’ to change the perception that the PICs’ governments and peoples have of Taipei’s role in the Pacific. In addition, the Taiwanese government is now free to explore new avenues for closer collaboration with the Western actors, Australia in primis. China can take the time to rethink its South Pacific strategy, and make it more ‘harmonious’, in order to be regarded by the island states and the other major players as a responsible stakeholder rather than a solipsistic buyer of influence that harbours hegemonic ambitions.  Australia - in the light that the truce has lessened the disruptive effects of the Sino-Taiwanese competition - now has the possibility to advance its good-governance agenda in the region by adopting a more empathetic ‘islands diplomacy’ and learning from its own errors. For Canberra, seeking cooperation with the dragons (or, at least, with the dragon who is willing to listen) would be a better option than continuing to blame them. After all, in Chinese culture dragons are benign water creatures. The Southern Seas can accommodate them.

[1] Solomon Times, “Taiwan Pacific Allies Summit”, 23 April 2009,, accessed 30 December 2010.

[2] Jian Yang, “China in the South Pacific: hegemon on the horizon?”, The Pacific Review, Vol. 22, No. 2, pp. 139-42.

[3] Richard Herr, “Sovereignty and Responsibility: Some Issues in Chinese/Taiwanese Rivalry in the Pacific Islands”, Fijian Studies, Vol. 4, No. 2, November 2006, p. 90.

[4][4] Joel Atkinson, “China-Taiwan diplomatic competition and the Pacific Islands”, The Pacific Review, Vol. 23, No. 4, August 2010, p. 408.

[5] Thomas Biddick, “Diplomatic rivalry in the South Pacific: the PRC and Taiwan”, Asian Survey, Vol. 29, No. 8, 1989, pp. 810-11.

[6] National Australian Archives, Department of Foreign Affairs; A1838, Diplomatic Representatives Abroad- Taiwan -Closure of Post, 1500/2/62/4 PART 1, “From Australian high commission Port Moresby to department, relations with China and Taiwan”, 1 July 1974, 1972–1973.

[7] Randall Newnham, “Embassies for sale: the purchase of diplomatic recognition by West GermanyTaiwan and South Korea”, International Politics, Vol.  37, No. 3, 2000, p. 273.

[8] Thomas Biddick, “Diplomatic rivalry in the South Pacific: the PRC and Taiwan”, p. 807.

[9] Chiao Chiao Hsieh, “Pragmatic diplomacy: foreign policy and external relations”, in

P. Ferdinand (ed.) Take-off for Taiwan?London, Pinter, 1996, p 80.

[10] Joel Atkinson, “China-Taiwan diplomatic competition and the Pacific Islands”, p. 410.

[11] Kerry Dumbaugh, “China’s foreign policy: what does it mean for U.S. global interests?’, Congressional Research Service Report for Congress RL34588, 18 July 2008, p. 26.

[12] Graeme Dobell, “Pacific Power Plays”, in Australia Strategic Policy Institute, “Australia and the South Pacific Rising to the challenge”, ASPI Special Report, Issue 12, March 2008, p. 79.

[13] Carol Lancaster, The Chinese Aid System, Washington, Center for Global Development, 2007, p. 2.

[14] Fergus Hanson, The Dragon in the Pacific: More Opportunity than Threat, Sydney, Lowy Institute For International Policy, 2008, p. 3.

[15] OECD, Debt Relief is Down: Other ODA Rises Slightly, 4 April 2008.

[16] MOFA, “Progressive partnerships and sustainable development: white paper on foreign aid policy (summary)”, Ministry of Foreign Affairs Republic  of China (Taiwan), May 2009.

[17] Fergus Hanson, The Dragon in the Pacific: More Opportunity than Threat, p. 3.

[18] Tauaasa Taafaki, “Tuvalu”, The Contemporary Pacific, Vol. 19, No 1, 2007, p. 280.

[19] Joel Atkinson, “China-Taiwan diplomatic competition and the Pacific Islands”, p. 412.

[20] Ibid, p. 414.

[21] Andre Vltchek, “Wooing the Islands: China and Taiwan High Stakes Bid for Pacific Island Support”, Japan Focus, 20 April 2008,

[22] Fergus Hanson, “New Dragon in Town: Chinese Aid in the Pacific”, International Relations and Security Network, 26 October 2010,

[23] Graeme Dobell, “China and Taiwan in the South Pacific: Diplomatic Chess versus Pacific Political Rugby”, CSCSD Occasional Paper, No.1, May 2007, p. 4.

[24] Fred Vurobaravu, “Parliament debates Vanuatu-Taiwan deal”, Vanuatu Daily Post, 24 November 2004,

[25] Joel Atkinson, “China-Taiwan diplomatic competition and the Pacific Islands”, p. 413.

[26] Fergus Hanson, “New Dragon in Town: Chinese Aid in the Pacific”.

[27] Joel Atkinson, “China-Taiwan diplomatic competition and the Pacific Islands”, p. 413.

[28] Angela Gregory, “Islands of influence”, New Zealand Herald, 10 December 2005,

[29] Ibid.

[30] Pacific Magazine, “Minister sacked for not denouncing MOU with China”, 8 August 2006,

[31] Anthony van Fossen, “The struggle for recognition: diplomatic competition between China and Taiwan in Oceania”, Journal of Chinese Political Science, Vol. 12, No. 2, 2007, p. 133.

[32] Xinhua, “China donates fertilizer to Fiji farmers”, 3 February 2010,

[33] Graeme Dobell, &&& p. 13.

[34] See Geoffrey York, “Papua New Guinea and China’s new empire”, Globe and Mail, 2 January 2009,

[35] Eric Harwit, “Taiwan’s foreign economic relations with developing nations: A case study of its ties with Palau”, The Contemporary Pacific, Vol. 12, No.2, Fall 2000, p. 469.

[36] Solomon Times, “PM Sikua Salutes Taiwans Investment in Solomon Islands”, , 10 December 2009,

[37] Global Bioenergy Industry News, “Taiwan to Help Pacific Islands Plant Jatropha”, 25 March 2010,

[38] Ralph Jennings, “Taiwan plans to save Pacific ally from rising sea”, Reuters, 23 March 2010,,

[39] Shih Ying-ying, “Medical team visits Solomon Islands, forms relationship with sister hospital”, Taiwan Journal, 13 January 2006,

[40] Joel Atkinson, “China-Taiwan diplomatic competition and the Pacific Islands”, p. 417.

[41] Ralph Jennings, “Taiwan offers hand to sinking South Pacific island”, Reuters, 18 February 2009,

[42] Joel Atkinson, “China-Taiwan diplomatic competition and the Pacific Islands”, p. 417.

[43] Mary Kay Magistad, “Palau’s China dilemma”, The World, 16 March 2010,

[44] I-chung Lai, “Taiwan’s South Pacific strategy”, Taiwan International Studies Quarterly Vol. 3, No. 3, 2007, p. 142.

[45] Andre Vltchek, “Wooing the Islands: China and Taiwan High Stakes Bid for Pacific Island Support”.

[46] China Post, “Austronesian Conference opens in Taipei”, 9 June 2010,

[47] Taiwan News, “How Ma is undercutting Taiwan-Pacific links”, 22 March 2010,

[48] Dennis Engbarth, “‘We were right to come to Palau,’ Chen states”, Taiwan News, 6 September 2006, content.


[49] Rowan Callick, “Bloody Pacific war for diplomatic loyalty over”, Islands Business, April 2010,

[50] Taiwan News, “How Ma is undercutting Taiwan-Pacific links”

[51] Ibid.

[52] Joel Atkinson, “China-Taiwan diplomatic competition and the Pacific Islands”, p. 419.

[53] CCTV, “China seeks to boost economic, trade ties with Australia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea”, 5 November 2009,

[54] John Henderson, “China, Taiwan and the changing strategic significance of Oceania”, Revue Juridique Polynesienne, Vol. 1 No. 1, September 2001, p. 152.

[55] Henry S. Albinski, “Taiwan and Hong Kong in Australian external policy perspective”, in Colin Mackerras (ed.), Australia and China: Partners in Asia, Melbourne, Macmillan Education Australia, 1996, p. 37.

[56] Pesi Fonua, “China supports South Pacific tourism”, Matangi Tonga Online, 24 October 2005, print spto241005.shtml.

[57] Xinhua, “China joins South Pacific Tourism Organization”, 21 April 2004,

[58] Samantha Magick, “China syndrome: is China the answer for Pacific tourism?”, Pacific Magazine, 1 April2005,

[59] Solomon Star, “SI failed to put Taiwan in Pacific tourism body”, 25 October 2005,, 29 October 2005.

[60] Pesi Fonua, “China supports South Pacific tourism”.

[61] Yun-ping Chang, “Pacific allies to shun summit with China’s premier”, Taipei Times, 24 March2006, p. 3.

[62] Robert Keith-Reid and Samisoni Pareti, “Stirring a Pacific wok: Chinese ploys for power”, Islands Business, March 2006,,

[63] Joel Atkinson, “China-Taiwan diplomatic competition and the Pacific Islands”, p. 420.

[64] Fergus Hanson, “New Dragon in Town: Chinese Aid in the Pacific”.

[65] Joel Atkinson, “China-Taiwan diplomatic competition and the Pacific Islands”, p. 420.

[66] Fergus Hanson, “New Dragon in Town: Chinese Aid in the Pacific”.

[67] Joel Atkinson, “China-Taiwan diplomatic competition and the Pacific Islands”, p. 421.

[68] Richard Herr, “Sovereignty and Responsibility: Some Issues in Chinese/Taiwanese Rivalry in the Pacific Islands”, p. 80.

[69] Ibid., p. 82.

[70] Ibid.

[71] James Brooke, “Typhoon of Chinese tourists hits the Pacific Islands”, Taipei Times, 28 November 2004,

[72] Thomas de Waal, “The Caucasian Wars Go Pacific”, National Interest, 22 September 2010,

[73] Ibid.

[74] Ibid. Francis Hazel, director of the Micronesian Seminar, remembers how one day a television crew from Israel besieged his office in the capital of the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM), Pohnpei. “I wondered what they were doing in this city, which hardly appears on any world maps. Then I understood: the Israeli public was curious about this country which keeps joining the U.S., voting against all UN resolutions condemning Israeli actions in the Middle East.”

[75] Richard Herr, “Sovereignty and Responsibility: Some Issues in Chinese/Taiwanese Rivalry in the Pacific Islands”, p. 81.

[76] Chris Johnson “Australia must count the cost of this victory”, The West Australian, 25 June 2005, p. 10a.

[77] Andre Vltchek, “Wooing the Islands: China and Taiwan High Stakes Bid for Pacific Island Support”.

[78] Ibid.

[79] Yokwe Online, “Articles: Marshall Islands and Foreign Affairs Analysis”, 20 January 2008,

[80] SWM, “Bainimarama headed back to China for more treatment”, 12 December 2010,

[81] Joel Atkinson, “China-Taiwan diplomatic competition and the Pacific Islands”, p. 409.

[82] The concept of the microstate implies a level of state capacity below that of the traditional “small power” and is normally related to size of population. For the purposes of this paper, a microstate is defined as a state with a population below 500,000.

[83] PNG with 5,940,775 and Fiji with 944,720 exceed the microstate threshold of half a million population (CIA World Factbook - 2010).

[84] Richard Herr and Robin Nair, “Managing Foreign Affairs in the Pacific Islands: A Case Study” (work in progress), 2007, p. 3.

[85] Ibid.

[86] Johnson Toribiong as quoted in Mary Kay Magistad, “Palau’s China Dilemma”.

[87] Mary Kay Magistad as quoted in Mary Kay Magistad, “Palau’s China Dilemma”.

[88] Tony de Brum as quoted in Yokwe Online, “Articles: Marshall Islands and Foreign Affairs Analysis”.

[89] Joel Atkinson, “China-Taiwan diplomatic competition and the Pacific Islands”, p. 411.

[90] Ibid, pp. 413-414.

[91] Ibid., p. 415.

[92] Jon Fraenkel, The Manipulation of Custom: From Uprising to Intervention in the Solomon Islands, Canberra, Pandanus Books, 2004, p. 124.

[93] Marc Neil-Jones, “China says US$10 million in aid may be lost”, Vanuatu Daily Post, 5 November 2004,

[94] Marc Neil-Jones, “Council of ministers say ‘no’ to Taiwan”, Vanuatu Daily Post, 11 November 2004,

[95] Marc Neil-Jones, “Natapei confirms $2m Taiwan offer”, Vanuatu Daily Post, 7 December 2004, www.

[96] National Australian Archives (NAA) (1974) Department of Foreign Affairs; A1838, Diplomatic Representatives Abroad- Taiwan -Closure of Post, 1500/2/62/4 PART 1, From Australian high commission Port Moresby to department, relations with China and Taiwan, 1 July 1974, 1972–1973.

[97] ABC News, “Kiribati explains decision to establish relations with Taiwan”, 9 November 2003,

[98] ABC News, “Kiribati prepares for backlash after recognising Taiwan”, 7 November 2003,

[99] ABC News, “China woos Kiribati to ditch Taiwan links”, 27 November 2003,

[100] Marc Neil-Jones, “Council of ministers say ‘no’ to Taiwan”.

[101] Ibid.

[102] Joel Atkinson, “China-Taiwan diplomatic competition and the Pacific Islands”, p. 418.

[103] Andre Vltchek, “Wooing the Islands: China and Taiwan High Stakes Bid for Pacific Island Support”.

[104] Richard Herr, “Sovereignty and Responsibility: Some Issues in Chinese/Taiwanese Rivalry in the Pacific Islands”, p. 82.

[105] Andre Vltchek, “Wooing the Islands: China and Taiwan High Stakes Bid for Pacific Island Support”.

[106] Gordon Bilney, “The Pacific island states, rich in resources, need to do better”, International

Herald Tribune, 1 August 1994,

[107] Scoop Independent News, “Australia to become America’s peacekeeping deputy”, 23 September 1999,

[108] Joel Atkinson, “Vanuatu in Australia-China-Taiwan relations”, Australian Journal of International Affairs, Vol. 61, No. 3, September 2007, pp.354.

[109] Phil Mercer, “Chinese rivals grapple for Pacific” BBC News, 4 April 2007,, accessed 21 December 2010.

[110] Brian Whitaker, “Chinese flee backlash from Pacific cold war”, The Guardian, 24 April 2006,

[111] Joel Atkinson, “Vanuatu in Australia-China-Taiwan relations”, p. 354.

[112] Richard C. Smith, “Australia and the Rise of China: Strategic and Policy Implications”, Wilson Center, 16 June 2009,

[113] Michael Turton, “Taiwan - Australia - Solomons”, The View from Taiwan, 30 March 2010,

[114] Craig Skehan and Cynthia Banham, “High-stakes diplomacy in Vanuatu”, Sydney Morning

Herald, 27 November 2004,


[115] Joel Atkinson as quoted in Michael Turton, “Taiwan - Australia - Solomons”.

[116] Ibid.

[117] J. Bruce Jacobs, “Australia’s relationship with the Republic of China on Taiwan”,

in Nicholas Thomas (ed.), Re-orienting AustraliaChina Relations: 1972 to the Present, Hampshire (England) and Burlington (Vermont), Ashgate Publishing, 2004, pp. 35-50.

[118] Joel Atkinson, “Vanuatu in Australia-China-Taiwan relations”, p. 355.

[119] Radio Australia News, “Taiwanese official accuses Australia of meddling in its relations with Kiribati”, 27 September 2004.

[120] Ibid.

[121] Port Vila Presse, “Taiwan establishes diplomatic ties with Vanuatu in snub to China”, 4 November 2004,

[122] Richard Herr, “Sovereignty and Responsibility: Some Issues in Chinese/Taiwanese Rivalry in the Pacific Islands”, Fijian Studies, Vol. 4, No. 2, November 2006, pp.87-88.

[123] “Australia and China moved quickly to re-establish their respective positions in Vanuatu. Downer travelled to Vanuatu shortly after the new government was formed to sign a ‘good governance accord’. Australia’s aid commitment was then increased by some 700 million vatu (approximately US$6 million). China promptly brought Lini [Vohor’s successor, ndr.] to Beijing, where he met with the Chinese president and premier, and Chinese aid was increased significantly. China also announced that US$1 million would be provided in cash to support the new government’s budget. The parties signalled that a diplomatic mission would soon be established in Beijing, with an additional consul in Hong Kong ‘on the cards’. On his return, Lini announced that he wanted a law to enforce a ‘one China policy’. China later agreed to two separate defence agreements with Vanuatu worth 32.8 million vatu (approximately US$320,000). These agreements provided equipment, vehicles and uniforms for the Vanuatu military and police. The Chinese further promised two patrol boats).[…] China also moved to approve Vanuatu as a destination for Chinese tourists. Vanuatu was included in a RMB3 billion (approximately US$374 million) over three years concessionary loan scheme for South Pacific countries. Along with Samoa, Vanuatu exports were granted zero tariff entry into China and Vanuatu’s existing debt with China was cancelled. China also provided assistance in buying Vanuatu a new passenger jet. Vohor became opposition leader after his parliamentary defeat, swiftly apologising to the Chinese ambassador so as to renew his party’s (apparently very valuable) links with the CCP.” (Joel Atkinson, “Vanuatu in Australia-China-Taiwan relations”, pp. 361-362)

[124] Joel Atkinson, “Vanuatu in Australia-China-Taiwan relations”, p. 362.

[125] ABC News Online, “Australia threatens to cut aid to Vanuatu”, 26 November 2004,

[126] Joel Atkinson, “Vanuatu in Australia-China-Taiwan relations”, p. 359.

[127] Australian High Commission (Port Vila), “Transcript of Australian officials press conference”, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, 26 November2004,

[128] Tai-lin Huang, “Vanuatu: Canberra told not to meddle: MOFA Taiwan”, Taipei Times, 30 November 2004,

[129] Ibid.

[130] AAP, “Vanuatu aid moves anger Taiwan”, 30 November 2004,

[131] Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade of the Republic of China (Taiwan), “Partnerships for Progress  and Sustainable Development - White Paper on Foreign Aid Policy”, May 2009,

[132] “The Paris Declaration, endorsed on 2 March 2005, is an international agreement to which over one hundred Ministers, Heads of Agencies and other Senior Officials adhered and committed their countries and organisations to continue to increase efforts in harmonisation, alignment and managing aid for results with a set of monitorable actions and indicators.” (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, “The Paris Declaration and Accra Agenda for Action”, no date,,3343,en_2649_3236398_35401554_1_1_1_1,00.html).

[133] Fergus Hanson, “Relief for Canberra aid headache”, Sydney Morning Herald, 15 May 2009,

[134] Ibid.

[135] Ma Ying-jeou as quoted in Rowan Callick, “Taiwan in appeal for closer contact”, The Australian, 29 March 2010,

[136] Fergus Hanson, “Relief for Canberra aid headache”.

[137] “Kavieng Declaration on Aid Effectiveness: A Joint Commitment of Principles and Actions between the Government of PNG and Development Partners”, 15 February 2008,

[138] Graeme Dobell, “China and Taiwan in the South Pacific: Diplomatic Chess versus Pacific Political Rugby”, CSCSD Occasional Paper, No.1, May 2007, p. 4.

[139] Jian Yang, “China in the South Pacific: hegemon on the horizon?”, The Pacific Review, Vol. 22, Issue 2, 2009, p. 141.

[140] Graeme Dobell, “Pacific Power Plays”, in Australia Strategic Policy Institute, “Australia and the South Pacific Rising to the challenge”, ASPI Special Report, Issue 12, March 2008, p. 80.

[141] Allan Patience, “Japan, Australia and Niche Diplomacy in the South Pacific”, in Joseph A. Camilleri (ed.), Asia-Pacific geopolitics: hegemony vs. human security, pp. 145-162.

[142] Hug White, “Striking a new balance”, 8 November 2010, The Age,

[143] Ishaan Tharoor, “China Broadens Its Strategy in the South Pacific”, Time, 7 September 2010,,8599,2016287,00.html.

[144] C. Steven McGann, “The Changing Roles of U.S., Australia, China and India in the South Pacific”, address to the Asia Society, Washington D.C., 5 October 2010,

[145] Matthew Hill, “Chessboard or ‘Political Bazaar’?”, Revisiting Beijing, Canberra and Wellington’s Engagement with the South Pacific”, Security Challenges, Vol. 6, No. 3, Spring 2010, p. 41.

Friday, 25 March 2011 16:52

The 'Kurile Islands': How Far Do They Stretch?

Yakov Zinberg is a lecturer in International Relations at Kokushikan University in Tokyo, and North East Asia regional editor for Boundary and Security Bulletin (IBRU, Durham University, UK). He has published extensively in Japan's territorial issues in English and Japanese. In this interview he discusses Political power transition in Japan and the Northern territories issue.

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